We have evolved intellectually over the centuries, but has this mental evolution regressed us physically? Are our jobs and activities keeping us immobile to the point of causing imbalances and injuries? That, I suppose, depends on your job and how you do it.
In the world of physical therapy we see a large number of the population who do too much or too little physical activity during their work day. Is this coincidence or a reason for their visit in the office? Most of the time, it’s hard for us to tell the one root cause of an injury without a specific incident, but these factors can definitely influence the recovery, if not feed into a more chronic injury itself.
While those that are too active at work can develop issues, we commonly see the other side of the work pool with those that are too sedentary. Let’s spend some time today talking about common issues and give you a quick routine or two to break you out of the adopted computer position.
If you look at the poor computer worker position (assuming they have not had an ergonomic consult), you can see a few common issues that occur. The forward or tilted position of the head, whether up or down will start to tax the upper body and postural muscles; this can lead to muscle imbalances over time. Lifting or reaching the arms to get to the keyboard will strain the neck and shoulder muscles, and it can even lead to impingement at the shoulders over time. Similar in the wrists in, having to lift up to get to the keyboard can lead to tendonitis or carpal tunnel issues. Having your chair up too high or low can begin to focus pressure in areas of the lower and mid back, depending on your hip angle and upper body position.
Let’s say you go the extra step and have an ergonomic consult, or make corrections yourself, and you are now in the perfect position at your work station. Are you ever truly free of the potential for issues? Unfortunately, no. We’re really not meant to sit for long periods of time day after day. Looking at the corrected posture picture, you can see the hips bent at a nice 90 degree angle to help protect the back. However, this shortens your psoas (hip flexor) muscle over time, which can also lead to back problems itself. Constant forward motion of the arms can still tax the shoulders and promote impingement in some people. Immobility, in itself, can cause issues with circulation as well.
So what’s the solution? Get a new job? That’s not really feasible for most, especially when there is good work that comes out of these jobs. Some modifications to correct your work station and your habits can help. If you have a good HR department, having a doctor’s prescription can usually help you coordinate having someone come in for an ergonomic consult and adjust your station for you. If not, there are plenty of pictures and websites you can look at for work station adjustments depending on what you need to have at yours.
For those already set up ergonomically and ready to go, or maybe you’re waiting on you appointment to have things adjusted, here are a few tips to use throughout the day. I had a former coworker who always used to tell her patients to do 9 every 90. Get up every 90 minutes (set a timer) and do 9 minutes of something. Walking, squats, stretches, yoga, something or anything – just not sitting. Another coworker likes to give out a mini program to do every 30 minutes: do 10 repetitions each of : 1. open your jaw and wiggle it around, 2. reverse shoulder rolls, 3. arm reaches out to the side, 4. stand and flex glutes (buttocks), 5. heel raise. And you are done in less than a minute!
There are so many different movements and activities you can do throughout the day, but the more frequently, the better. Going out for a walk or workout during lunch is great, but do you still have two four hour chunks of sitting throughout the day? Shorten that time and give yourself a little love, you deserve it. Take some time for yourself so you can return to better quality work!