Jobs now make up the majority of how we spend the hours in our day. For most of us, that means we are doing a lot of sitting and a lot of typing. But, when we finally clock out for the day, we tend to spend our free time ‘relaxing’, with more sitting and more typing. This repetitive movement is actually very stressful for the body because it was designed to perform a variety of movements, rather than one over and over and over again. These repetitive movements lead to injury of the overused tissues in our body.
Typically, the body tries to warn us before pain elevates to injury by giving us an ache in the overused muscle tissue, but for many of us, it seems impossible to make a change to our daily life because our jobs require a specific task or action from us.
While that may be true to some degree, if we apply some mindful movement tactics into our day to minimize the repetitive stress-and that means limiting time doing the same thing on our downtime, we can ward off Repetitive Strain Injury.
In order to understand how to mitigate the effects of injury from sitting and computer use, we must understand the risk factors associated with these two activities, other than overuse: poor posture and poor technique.
Many patients are surprised to hear that slumped posture during repetitive desk tasks like the use of computer actually accelerates overuse injury. When the shoulders are protracted or wide along the ribcage, the head protrudes greatly in front of the body, and the spine is rounded and essentially unsupported against gravity, the muscles of the arm are put at a biomechanics disadvantage. This means that the muscles are already inherently more stressed because of their prepositioning!
Despite the poor positioning and set up, we ask these taxed muscles to do a lot of repetitive work, stressing the already stressed muscles even further! Doesn’t seem right! If we are going to ask our body to do a task for us day in and day out, we need to set it up for success! This means we need our chin tucked (thing double chin…), with our head supported softly over our stacked spine, rib cage and pelvis. We also need our shoulders slightly retracted, or gently squeezed back towards the spine to which puts our arms in an optimal working position.
Now, when we ask our body to do a task, it will be supported in the most effective way possible. Try this position with me.
I bet you’re thinking it impossible to maintain this position the entire workday. It is! It is not appropriate to sit down, assume the posture, and never stand until you’re ready to leave. Your body needs a reset and reposition every 15-30 minutes, depending upon how long you’ve been practicing this improved way of sitting.
Walking for 2-3 minutes every hour or a couple of hours is ideal, but at a minimum you should stand, fully allowing your hips to open every 15-30 minutes. If you think of this as necessary, rather than optional, you may have better luck actually doing it. Just the other day, I went to turn on my garbage disposal and instead of the loud grumble that screams up through my drain normally, there was silence. Hmm. I turned it off and again on, with only silence in the air. With a quick call to my stepdad, he told me to press the reset button on the garbage disposal. The what? Please tell me not everyone already knows that there is a reset button on the garbage disposal?
I got down on my hands and knees through a squat (go ahead, add a Cat-Cow stretch in while you’re down there looking for the reset button) and pressed the reset button (with the garbage disposal on). A quick switch off and then back on of the garbage disposal had me startled from the roaring released below, as the water began to drain from the sink. Crisis averted.
How nice that the garbage disposal has a reset button! Our body doesn’t have a reset button, but it does things that the garbage disposal doesn’t… like two feet, with the ability to stand and reset naturally, fluidly within whatever environment you are in!
Breaking up the time you are sitting will allow you the chance to reset the improved form when sitting, which will minimize the risk for repetitive stress injury.
But, it isn’t gone completely, because we are still using our muscles for longer durations, day in and day out, and they are never getting a chance to reset and reduce the inflammation from constant use!
This has been a topic of concern for so many of you, that I have created a FREE HANDOUT that you can print out and keep at your desk specifically designed by me, a doctor of physical therapy, that demonstrates important stretches to integrate into your day on the job!
These stretches will feel good! If you need more to motivate you, know that doing them will actually make you more productive. No, really! Doing these stretches will rejuvenate your achy, tired muscles and increase blood flow within your body which will improve energy levels. Plus, think of them like the apple in the saying ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’. Improve your posture, alter your position, and restore those overworked muscles and just maybe I won’t have to see you in the clinic for a Repetitive Stress Injury!
Okay, to get that highly desired handout on movement tricks to implement at your desk, sign up to follow me at the bottom of the blog!