Is Your Desk Job Causing Pain and Injury?

March 4th, 2009

Neck Pain from ComputerMany people who have desk jobs spend a large majority of their day sitting. This is major factor in the pain related disorders that are so common today.

Posture is Important

There are hundreds of muscles in the human body. Most of them are connected to joints and are arranged in ways that oppose each other. This is what enables a joint to move back and forth in opposite directions. Poor posture promotes imbalance among these muscles and causes uneven tension on joints that often leads to painful problems.

Any type of repetitive activity is likely to cause the muscles involved to tighten and shorten. Once a muscle becomes tighter than it’s opposing muscle, the resulting uneven tension consistently applied to the joint in common will alter it’s neutral position. For example, a weightlifter that targets their chest muscles more frequently than their back muscles is likely to have shoulders that are constantly pulled forward. This will pull the head and upper body forward as well and result in posture that will eventually be problematic.

Once poor posture develops, the body will no longer have good vertical alignment. This will allow gravity to pull the body further out of alignment and worsen the already existing imbalance between opposing muscles. Long term, the joint and muscle strain this causes will likely lead to chronic pain and may even result in debilitating injury. The headaches and back, shoulder and neck pains that are so prevalent today are all common results of poor posture.

The Cost of Sitting

Most people spend all day at their job sitting behind a desk. They sit in their car during their commute to and from work, they sit at the dinner table when they get home, and then they go sit on the couch to watch television. That’s a lot of sitting!

Long periods of sitting cause the anterior muscles of the hips and thighs to shorten. Sitting also facilitates rounding of the back and a forward and downard lean of the shoulders, chest, and head, especially when using a computer. Repeated hour after hour and day after day, this eventually affects the way you stand. If the resulting poor posture doesn’t cause pain and injury by itself, it will predispose you to pain and injury when you engage in other activities.

Computer use worsens the negative impact that sitting has on posture by encouraging us to hold our arms up and forward to use the keyboard and mouse, and to lean our head forward to read the screen. This adds additional strain to the shoulders, back and neck, and is likely to eventually cause pain.

How to Sit with Good Posture

The following are some practical tips to help you sit properly and avoid the painful effects of poor posture.

  • Adjust the height of you chair so that your thighs are parallel to the floor, your feet are fully touching the floor, and your knees are at a 90 degree angle.
  • Sit with your lower back arched, your hips at a 90 degree angle, and without using the back support.
  • Adjust the arm rests of your chair to be slightly higher than the natural resting position of your elbows. Rest your elbows at your sides and on the arm rests when using the computer to reduce the strain on your shoulders and upper back.
  • Use a slide out tray for your keyboard and mouse so that you don’t have to reach forward to use them. This will also reduce the strain on your shoulders and upper back.
  • Lift your chest up and extend it slightly forward.
  • Pull you shoulders down and back while slightly squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  • Pull your chin in towards your neck and try to keep your ears aligned above your shoulders.
  • Position your monitor several feet away from your face and mount it high enough so that the top portion of the screen is at eye level.
  • Put a sticker or a note on your monitor that will remind you to correct your posture throughout the day.

Take a Break

Even with perfect posture, it’s important to give yourself a rest from being in the same position. At least once per hour, aim to get up, walk around, and stretch out. And about every twenty minutes, try to look away from the monitor and focus at something far away to give your eyes a break from continuosly focusing at the same depth. Establishing a routine like this will help to reduce both muscle tightness and eye strain.

Extra Measures

If your posture is already bad and you’re currently experiencing pain, the suggestions I’ve made so far should certainly help, but probably won’t be enough to get rid of your pain

I highly recommend that you start using trigger point therapy to loosen tight muscles and reduce the pain they’re causing. As you’ll see in the linked article, it’s very easy to do and you’ll likely be shocked at it’s potential to eliminate pain that you’d never have attributed to muscle tightness.

Next is an excellent stretch that will target the entire front half of your body and will help to counteract the muscle tightness and shortening caused by sitting. Start by lying with your back on a stability ball and your feet on the floor. Push backward with your feet and reach your arms back toward the floor until they touch or come as close as your flexibility will allow. Rolling back and forth will allow you to adjust the focus of the stretch to different areas. You can also use the stability ball as a chair which will make it much harder for you to sit with poor posture.

Finally, if you spend any time watching television, consider spending some of that time lying with your stomach on the floor. Although not as effective as the stability ball stretch, this will have a similar effect and is a much better alternative than spending additional time sitting.

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