“Sit up straight!”—the compulsory words of every mother out there. Just like not forgetting your coat and mittens, your mom was right about this also. Believe it or not, posture plays a role in many common orthopedic problems, especially back and neck pain. By definition, posture is the body’s alignment and positioning with respect to gravity. No matter what position you are in, gravity is imparting a force on your joints, ligaments and muscles. “Good posture” entails distributing that force so that no one structure is over-stressed.
In most cases, the major culprit in this equation is your desk. Sitting for long periods with a computer or given task in front of you makes it very difficult to maintain proper posture. As you slave away, staring at that computer screen, your head will naturally start to protrude forward, and your back and shoulders round. In this position, the weight of your head is no longer balanced over the spinal column, placing increased stress on the structure of the spine and muscles of your neck and back. This change in posture accounts for a very small increase in stress over a short period, but in time it adds up to a lot of accumulated stress over days, weeks, and months of sitting for extended periods of time. All this improper loading will then lead to muscle length changes that encourage this posturing more consistently. This, compounded by inactivity that often accompanies long work days, affects the health and resilience of your muscles and joints eventually leading to injury.
So what can we do about it? Well, here are a few tips that often go hand in hand with physical therapy interventions for back and neck pain. Take a look at the ergonomics of your work station. The top of your screen should be at or slightly below your eye level. Keep your head in line with your shoulders and forearms level or tilted downward slightly when they are positioned on the keyboard. Your shoulders should be relaxed and there should be a slight arch in the small of your back. Place your feet flat on the floor and position your seat high enough so that your knees are bent to 90 degrees or slightly more. Also, whenever possible find an excuse to move! Get up go to the water cooler, take a walk while you think, do some stretching, or take a mental break. Studies show you will be more productive. Then, you’ll have more time at the end of the day to call your mother and thank her for always keeping your best interest in mind.
Kali Spoto LaRue, PT, DPT, OCS