By Angus Nicol
Slouchy slouch - How are you sitting?
Ever heard of the saying “sitting is the new smoking?” As the health conscious reader I know you are (since you’re reading this blog), I’m almost sure you have. And it’s true, prolonged periods of “sedentary” behaviour (physical inactivity) over long periods can have detrimental effects on both your physical and mental health. This is worrying, since an estimated 81% of Australians work in occupations that require some sitting, with over half of Australians reporting that they sit for work “all the time” or “often”.
Today I’m not here to lecture you about all the health consequences of sitting (that may have to wait for another time), but rather to give you some hints and tips about proper desk posture and ergonomics - so that when you are sitting, at least you’re doing it in the healthiest possible way! I feel this is becoming increasingly important given that there are more people than ever working from home in less than ideal workspaces (whether that be in bed/on the couch, at the kitchen table etc).
I’m sure you would all recognise the classic “desk posture”. Generally what you will see is four basic characteristics in the upper body:
This happens because when we’re sitting at a desk, everything we need is in front of us, so we slouch to get closer to it. This causes the muscles in the front of our chest to become short and tight and holds us in this rounded shoulder position. The opposite happens to the muscles in our back, over a long period of time the muscles between our spine and our shoulderblades may get weak and lazy, and they may no longer have the strength or endurance to hold our shoulders backwards.
This contributes to the upper part of the back becoming increasingly rounded and stiff, making it hard to sit up tall. This means that to continue looking straight ahead, you have to tilt your head backwards slightly. This requires excessive use of the muscles in the base of your skull and back of your neck and they may then become tight and give you neck pain. These muscles also refer up towards your skull, so tightness in these muscles may also be responsible for headaches! I feel it’s important to note that stress commonly causes these muscles to become tense, and exacerbate your neck pain and headaches.
Have a look in the mirror - look front-on and side-on, and notice the position of your shoulders, the curve in your upper back and the position of your neck.
Does any of it fit what I just described?
Well fear not, you’re not alone.
This is one of, if not, THE most common complaint I see in practice… but the good news?
YOU CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!
Ergonomics 101 - The quick fixes
A good place to start is by checking your work/desk setup… because if this isn’t ideal, chances are you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle. Where possible (and I know it may not always be!), try to have a dedicated area that you work from if working from home. Try to avoid sitting on surfaces that are too soft (eg beds or soft couches), as these are sacred bits of furniture that should be used for relaxation and enjoyment purposes only! Not to mention they are a posture nightmare! Here are some tips to try and ensure good posture when sitting at your desk. If possible, read this next part at your desk, and make adjustments as you go. It should only take a couple of minutes, and could save you a lot of pain and discomfort!
Need some help? Here are some people and gadgets to assist you.
Okay, how are you feeling now? Although it may seem relatively straightforward, getting this right can be a bit tricky. Sometimes some problem-solving, a bit of imagination and a helping hand is necessary. So, if you’re still struggling to achieve an ideal desk setup, it might be time to try to enlist some help. There’s a few ways you can go about this! First of all, take a photo of your current desk setup (ideally from side on with you sitting in it) and bring it into your local osteopath! We may be able to offer tailor-made advice and recommendations to perfect your desk setup. Other healthcare practitioners such as physiotherapists, chiropractors, GPs and occupational therapists (OTs) may also be able to offer sound advice!
Furthermore, there is an overwhelming amount of gizmos and gadgets out there designed to help improve your work ergonomics and make you as comfortable as possible. There is anything from ergonomically designed seats, sit-to-stand desks, ergonomic mouses and keyboards, footstools, back braces and much more! However, not all of these may be necessary for you, and there are some dodgy ones out there, so I highly recommend consulting your local healthcare practitioner to assess what may be useful for you, before wasting money on expensive fancy and potentially unnecessary things!
Another little hot tip… many large corporations (and even some small-medium organisations) employ professionals to perform ergonomic assessments, so it may be well worth your while and a good excuse to stand up and go for a wander to HR, or to your managers office, and ask if they can get someone to inspect for you. Sometimes workplaces are willing to cover expenses for any equipment that you require too! Because after all, happy, pain-free employees are likely to be more productive and make them more money… so your comfort is in their best interests too!
Visit your osteo!
Great! So now you have a perfect desk setup. But wait… there’s more. Think about your current job, and previous jobs before that. Do you think you could calculate the time spent sitting (probably with poor posture)? Guess what, a new desk setup isn’t magically going to reverse years of poor posture! BUT some hands-on treatment and some simple, easy exercises may help. Osteopaths can assess the main cause of your pain/discomfort and provide manual therapy and personalised exercises to help alleviate your pain, headaches and improve your posture! We may also take into account any other factors that may be influencing your pain (eg stress levels, diet & sleep etc). However, from a purely biomechanical perspective, an osteopaths goals may include:
Most of the time, postural complaints are not something that can be fixed instantly. Things that have been there for a long period of time often take a while to resolve. However, with a little bit of hands-on treatment and some dedication to rehabilitation exercises, you can see significant improvements in pain and headaches within 2-8 weeks… which is not long considering how long it may have been an issue for!
Please see below for a few easy exercises you can do whilst at your desk, however this is just the tip of the iceberg, come and see us for a more personalised and comprehensive approach tailored just for you!
If you find something of interest that might suit this space, or would like information on a specific topic, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org