What happens to your posture after you sit down at your computer workstation, use your laptop or work at your desk for 30 minutes or longer?
Awkward posture habits at work and home are the leading causes of headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, lower back pain and tendonitis of the shoulder, elbow, wrists and thumbs. This month, I encourage you to take back control of your musculoskeletal health and improve your daily vitality at work, home and play.
The forward head and slouched sitting posture is the most common and damaging of all posture habits in the 21st century workplace. This awkward posture can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) or injuries such as headaches, back pain, shoulder tendonitis, rotator cuff strains or tears, wrist tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and more.
The great news is that you have the power to reverse and correct the forward head posture and slouched sitting posture habits, but it takes daily awareness and some work by you. The payoff for your musculoskeletal health and vitality will be huge!
Forward head posture (FHP) is a round shoulders posture habit. This places the ligaments of the upper back on a sustained stretch, creating mechanical and nutritional stress leading to pain and swelling. The FHP posture also reduces the normal curve of the lower back leading to increased time spent in a “flat back or forward bending” posture. Overtime, this posture increases the risks of muscle fatigue and injury to the lumbar spinal discs. This is very similar to a domino effect. When your head goes forward and down, your spine’s arch changes, increasing muscle fatigue and joint wear and tear.
How many of you walk with your head down? If you do, change this habit today and keep your head up! This will reverse the negative domino effect detailed above and help to maintain a lordosis or “inward curve” in your lower back. Your whole body: neck, shoulders, arms and lower back will thank you!
The forward head posture places the neck muscles on the side of your neck and shoulders to face an excessive workload and posture demands daily at work, home and play. This compression of nerves and blood vessels in the neck and shoulder can increase the risk of MSD problems further down the upper extremities overtime. This is called thoracic outlet compression or reduced circulation of the blood supply and nerves to the working upper extremities (elbows, wrists, and hands).
I have been fortunate and blessed to have discovered a powerful recipe of WorkSmart posture habits and ergonomics, musculoskeletal self-care techniques and lifestyle factors that will reverse and treat nasty Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Tendonitis complaints, many times without surgery.
-- Improve your computer workstation setup by making sure your monitor is at the correct height (approximately eye level for most people without bifocals or trifocals). If you use a laptop, set your computer on a three-inch three ring binder to raise the monitor height and reduce FHP risks.
-- If you use a laptop more than 3-4 hours daily, it would be highly recommended to purchase a laptop stand, external keyboard and mouse to improve ergonomic setup and reduce awkward posture risk factors.
-- Use a document holder to prop any paperwork you are using upright instead of lying flat on your desk and reduce awkward sitting posture habits.
-- When using your smartphone or tablet, hold the phone or tablet out in front of you at approximately mid-chest height versus the awkward posture I see frequently which is holding your phone or tablet at waist level.
-- Avoid resting your wrist over the sharp edge of your desk when working on your laptop or computer. This awkward posture compresses median nerve and greatly increases wrist tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome risk factors.
-- When operating your mouse, use your whole hand and not just your fingertips to greatly reduce MSD risks to your elbow, wrist and thumb.
-- Perform daily WorkSmart dynamic stretching one to three times per day to reduce stiffness and pain, improve your energy level, reduce stress and muscle tension and improve your quality of life.
-- Perform the snakebite technique two to three times each week up to daily, until your symptoms of tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome resolve.
-- Perform ice massage one to four times daily for two to four minutes until numb over the inflamed and painful tendons or nerves.
-- Drink at least 40+ ounces of water daily, working towards half your body weight in ounces.
Ø Perform strength training or circuit training with strengthening components two or three more times each week.
I highly recommend that you perform five important stretches from the St. Luke’s WorkSmart Stretching Plan at least two to three times per day or up to every hour as needed. These stretches include: reach for the sky, neck stretches (3 positions), chin tuck, and the wrist and elbow stretches with rotation. These will all greatly reduce the MSD risks noted above and help to maintain a good blood supply.
A median nerve stretch (the carpal tunnel nerve) should also be performed two to three times per day or more as needed. Just the reverse of the wrist stretch, this stretch calls for putting your palm down instead of palm up and gently pulling back your fingers towards your head. Pull straight back, holding two to three seconds and repeat up to four times. Then do two to four reps of this median nerve stretch with fingers turned in across the front of your body and with fingers turned out away from your body at shoulder level.
Research has shown the median nerve stretch to reverse 50 percent to 60 percent of carpal tunnel like symptoms of numbness and tingling to the first four fingers, improve your grip strength and reduce your occasional sharp and stabbing pains.
Are you sitting up taller now? Improving your lifestyle habits and taking care of the only body you were blessed with will allow you to improve your musculoskeletal health.
1. The Work Injury Consulting Practice by Lauren Hebert DPT, OCS 1998.
2. WorkSmart – The Industrial Athlete Manual by Lauren Hebert DPT, OCS 96’ from IMPACC USA www.impacctraining.com
3. Atlas of Human Anatomy by Frank H. Netter, MD Plate 25 The Scalene and Prevertebral Muscles, Ciba 1995 8th Edition.
4. Explain Pain course in Lincoln, NE on March 12-13, 2011 by Adriaan Louw, PT, M.App.Sc(physio), GCRM, CSMT.
For more information on WorkSmart stretches, contact Erik please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.