Norton Shores Michigan Chiropractor — As our workforce becomes more specialized and high tech, more and more people are forced into long hours in a seated position. While we have been brought up to desire a “cozy desk job,” it may surprise you to find out that sitting at a desk all day may be the worst thing you can do to your spine and your overall health.
Technology is pretty sweet. You have a smartphone with apps that will do everything but chew your food for you. You can find dates, order food, and shop for more gadgets with the simple press of a touchscreen button. You can have instant access to every single album, bootleg, and live performance for every band you listened to in high school. You can even show off pictures of your kids. However, there are some drawbacks to our high tech society: staggering rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, ADHD, sleep disorders, depression, back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, arm pain, and headaches, to name a few. We truly are sicker than ever. As a chiropractor, I can tell you from experience that our spines are truly as unhealthy as ever. Is sitting to blame? Partially.
Numerous studies have shown that prolonged sitting can increase your risk for diabetes, obesity, cancer, and an untimely death. But if you look at our great grandparents, they didn’t sit all day (and their generation was a lot healthier). If you study primitive cultures, you won’t find too many people sitting perched on a tree stump for 8 hours per day. You know what else you won’t see a lot of in primitive cultures? Obesity, type 2 diabetes, headaches, arthritis, back pain, allergies, and depression. Hmmm…
Move It or Lose It
It turns out that moving is a good thing! Movement helps maintain good muscle tone, range of motion, blood and lymphatic flow, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and also improves your mood. The human body is pretty amazing that way in its function. The more you use it, the better it works (unlike those worn-out slippers that you are reluctant to replace).
“But Doc, I can’t quit my job! How am I going to support my gadget addiction and buy organic dog food for Princess?” Don’t worry, my white-collar friend! We’re going to help you limit the damage your sedentary desk job has done. It’s time for Desk Jockey Boot Camp… or Wingtip Camp?
Step One: Get Out of that Chair!
You should make a goal of getting up a minimum of every 20 minutes. Take a lap around the office (even better if you can find some stairs). Go get a drink of water. Bust out a set of pushups or squats. This will get blood flowing to the muscles, help maintain blood sugar levels, and help prevent the muscle imbalance that results from sitting. Getting up and moving also helps improve your mood and focus, which will make you more productive in the long run!
Step Two: Feeeeeeel the Stretch
I won’t bore you with the biomechanical changes that occur from prolonged sitting, but suffice to say some muscles tighten up (while others get weak) and this causes dysfunction and pain. There are certain muscles that need to be stretched in order to combat the effects of the sitting posture.
Torso and Upper Extremities:
Here is a nice list of stretches for the neck, back, torso, and upper extremities (courtesy of shelterpub.com)
Lower Extremities and Pelvis:
Now that we’ve got the upper half of you covered, we can’t forget about the legs and hips. They are often ignored but keeping these areas free of tension should be a priority. One of the problems with prolonged sitting is that certain muscles tighten over time (quads, hip flexors, hamstrings). Others get weak (core muscles, glutes). You can visit my blog on strengthening the core here: core stability to prevent back pain.
Here is a set of stretches everyone should be doing at regular intervals throughout the work day:
These should be held a minimum of 20 seconds per exercise per side. Once in the morning and once in the afternoon would be a good starting point. Adding to the upper extremity work, we are talking about roughly 15 minutes of stretching per day. This is a small price to pay in order to stay healthy (and productive). The return on investment could be huge if you can prevent serious musculoskeletal problems in the future.
Step Three: Eliminate Excuses
“Buh-buh-but I’m so BUSY! There’s no way I could take time away from work!” First of all, if you’re that busy, you certainly don’t have time to miss work due to pain, so investing a bit of time now will save you a LOT of time (and money) down the road. Besides, multiple studies have shown that getting physical activity increases your overall productivity because of the positive impacts on focus, concentration, and stress.
“When I get going on work, I get so carried away that I can’t remember to do my stretches!” Well, technology got us in this mess, but technology can also get us out of it! There are free programs that you can install on your computer (or smartphone) that will send you an alert to remind you to get up and move or do your stretches. You can customize the message as well as the time intervals. I like the “Big Stretch” program, available for free at cnet.com.
Step Four: Assess Your Workstation Setup:
The place you spend the majority of your time during the workday should be set up properly. Chairs should have good cushion to make the comfortable, but they should also be supportive. Old chairs will sag and lose their firmness. This allows the back to round, which is a recipe for lower back pain. Your computer should be at eye level and located directly in front of you. Your keyboard and mouse should be placed properly, so when you use them, your arm is at a perfect 90 degree angle. Computer peripherals that are too high or too low cause irritation to the neck and upper extremities, resulting in neck pain, upper back pain, shoulder pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Step Five: Make Chiropractic Part of Your Healthcare Regimen
So, what if you already have back pain, neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, shoulder pain, or tension headaches that are aggravated by work? It is likely that your long hours of sitting have caused real damage to the spine. Chiropractors specialize in realigning the bones of the spine, relieving pressure off the nerves and muscles, improving range of motion and reducing pain. If you live in the Muskegon area, I would love to help you. If not, ask around and find a chiropractor who can. Dealing with your health is a lot like an important work project. The longer you put things off, the worse things are going to get. Never forget that the most important piece of equipment in the office is your body.