You’ve probably heard that sitting is the new smoking-which may be a bit dramatic. Basically, our bodies crave and need constant movement. This means that any activity, occupation or past-time that keeps you in one position for a long time can have negative effects on your body. The most important thing to remember is to move often. Registered physiotherapists can help with this as we are movement specialists. We fix movement deficits and promote regular movement with our patients.
If you sit at a desk for work here are some areas in the body that might start to be a nuisance:
- Shoulders: Desk work such as mousing, typing and reading a computer screen can make our shoulders round forward. Non-optimal positioning of the shoulder girdle will lead to imbalances in the muscle system which means your muscles won’t work as well. This can be particularly noticeable when you require your shoulders for lifting, reaching overhead or playing recreational sports. You will be more susceptible to injury including muscle strains, rotator cuff dysfunction, bursitis, impingement among others.What To Do: Try sitting tall and pinching your shoulder blades together gently. Hold this position for 5 secs and slowly release. Repeat this maneuver 10x every 2 hours. Also try making big round circles with your shoulder blades. Focus on the part of the circle where you are opening your chest and pulling your shoulders back. Lastly, work on stretching your chest muscles (pectorals). You can get more out of the chest stretch by breathing into the sides and front of your rib cage.
- Neck:Poor ergonomics and computer set up can lead to a forward head posture. When your head leans far forward, there is increase strain at the neck. The muscles around the neck become tight and reactive. You can even get tension headaches.What To Do: Try sitting tall and think of stacking your neck bones one on top of another directly above the back. You can take this position one step further by tucking your chin and gently pushing your head back. Hold this position for 5 seconds and repeat 10x every two hours. Remember to move your head often throughout your day. Look to the left, look to the right, and make big circles with your neck if that is pain free.
- Low Back: When we get lazy at our desks, we often slouch or round through the low back. This can put a lot of excess pressure on the joints and disc in the low back. This can lead to disc injuries, muscle strains, joint stiffness and can lead to weakening of the abdominal muscles making you more susceptible to further injury and pain.What To Do: Try to sit directly on top of your sit bones and try to keep the weight even on both sit bones if possible. This will create a small arch in your low back which is normal and optimal. Also, be sure to get up and walk around every hour or so to take the pressure off your low back. When you are not at work, try doing some gentle yoga. A great pose to try is the cat-camel pose which takes your entire spine through a nice stretch.
- Hips: Sitting on our bums means that our gluteal muscles (buttock muscles) are squished all day long and this leads to weakness in this very important muscle group. Sitting for long periods also causes the hip flexors to become tight because our hips remain in a 90-degree angle while we sit. These imbalances in the hip can lead to a variety of injuries affecting all parts of the body particularly the low back and knees. When the hips don’t work well, often the neighbouring joints suffer.What To Do: Stand and walk throughout the day. Stagger your legs similar to a lunge position and transfer your weight forward. This will give you a nice stretch in the hip flexor muscle. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on both sides. Outside of the office, try doing a bridge to strengthen your gluteals. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Squeeze your buttock and lift your hips off the ground. Be sure to initiate the motion with your hips and not your low back. Start with 10 repetitions and build from there.
Remember that we are not all built the same. So, if these general exercise suggestions are not working for you, be sure to visit a registered physiotherapist who will provide you with individualized and specific exercises that will get you back on track. It may also be helpful to have an office ergonomic assessment of your workstation.