I Have To Sit At My Job All Day - How Can I Stop My Pain?
The questions of how to ease the pain and tension in my back and neck from sitting all day at the office have several answers and several solutions. The key to resolving this issue is one of cooperation. Our society wants a pill to cure everything these days with little to zero ‘buy-in’ from the one that is actually in pain.
Of course, intuitively, we know that body aches and pains do not really work that way. What we work ourselves into requires us to work our way out of. That is really the easiest way to put it.
Let us break it down a bit first. What is the perfect posture? It is sitting straight up with the shoulders back, the head retracted to where the ear holes are above the tips of the shoulders, and the tips of the shoulders are in a line directly above the hips while you look straight ahead with a monitor that is roughly at eye level. In addition, the feet would be separated at about shoulder width and placed flat on the floor.
The problem is not usually what would be considered as ‘bad posture’. Research these days is more and more clear. The posture that is not ideal is not necessarily bad. For example, leaning and slumping to your right for a brief amount of time and then leaning and slumping to your left for a brief period before sitting more upright is not undesirable. Since there is a consistent shift in the posture, it is not ‘bad posture’.
However, an undesirable position that is held, that is sustained, for longer periods of time IS bad posture. Sitting straight up with your chest out, shoulders back, and head pull back to where the ears are over the shoulders, while this position is considered ‘good posture’ it is not natural, it is difficult to maintain, and hard to hold consistently.
On the other hand, the undesirable positions, unfortunately, are much easier to hold and maintain. Isn’t it that way with anything that’s bad for you? We all think dessert tastes better than broccoli right? Positions that involve slumping forward in front of a computer screen with your head poked out like a chicken. You know the one..it’s bad for you when it is sustained and maintained. Positions like looking down at our phones all day every day. Teenagers have made this position famous along with the associated term ‘text neck’. These positions can truly be considered ‘bad postures’.
So, the first thing to address is a consistent change in whatever postures you choose to adopt throughout the day.
Next, let’s talk about movement. Movement is healing so it is important to keep moving as much as possible. Not only is sitting still bad, but sitting is also the most pressure you can put on your low back discs. Combine sitting with bending slightly forward, a person is really putting their low back at risk of having some issues. Keeping that in mind, it is best to get up from time to time. I like to recommend setting an alarm or a timer on your phone for 45 minutes. At least every 45 minutes, you should stand up and walk around for a couple of minutes.
It would be even more advantageous to have a vari-desk so that a person can either sit or stand and still work and be productive. Since they can be a tad on the expensive side, they may not be in the budget but are very useful. So, get up and walk around for a couple of minutes every 45 minutes and use your phone to remind you.
A vari-desk would also come in handy particularly in the morning. As we sleep, our discs fill up with more water since we are not walking around all day bearing weight on them and squishing them down. If the morning is when our discs are more full and fatter, and sitting is the most pressure we can put on our low back discs, it makes sense to stand to work for the first hour and a half or so to reduce strain on the discs and potential injury.
Upper Cross Syndrome
Another consideration for people that sit at offices all day every day is called upper cross syndrome. It is the posture one adopts from sitting with hunched over backs and necks that are poked out too much, too often. Over time, maintaining this sort of posture is stressful on the neck and the upper back. At some point, the connective tissues, the muscles, and even the bones will begin to change and remodel themselves to accept the normal posture rather than continue to fight the stresses you are putting it through. Your body is forced to remodel through repetitive stress. Think of computer workers, jewelers, nail techs, dentists, dental assistants, etc..
When your body remodels itself, the change is permanent and cannot be fixed. That’s why it is important to pay close attention to how you sit throughout the day, how often you are moving, and how often you walk around and stretch your low back and your neck.
Here are some exercises that you can Google up that are helpful in fighting upper cross syndrome:
- Cervical retractions
- Deep Neck Flexor Exercises
- Levator Stretch
- Trapezius Stretch
- Corner Pectoralis Stretch
- YTWL Scapular Depression
- Low Row
- Brugger With Band
In addition, to loosen up the mid and upper back areas, I would get a foam roller for use at home and would regularly ‘roll out’ my back at night. This should keep some healthy movement in the thoracic spine and provide a way to help counteract the effects of any slumping through the day.
At the end of the day, workers forced to be in undesirable positions for a large part of the day should be visiting their favorite evidence-based, patient-centered chiropractor for regular chiropractic care. This will ensure that you are staying on top of the situation and are doing all you can to counteract the effects of your job.
While we cannot always control the fact that we need to sit in front of a screen for a large part of the day, we CAN control HOW we do it and just a little bit of attention to biomechanics and regular movement can make a world of difference when it comes to suffering any potential symptoms.
Dr. Jeff Williams, DC, FIANM is a Fellowship-trained Neuromusculoskeletal specialist and chiropractor in Amarillo, TX. As an Amarillo chiropractor, Dr. Williams treats chronic pain, disc pain, low back pain, neck pain, whiplash injuries, and more. Dr. Williams is also the host of The Chiropractic Forward Podcast. Through the podcast, Dr. Williams teaches fellow chiropractors and advocates weekly for evidence-based, patient-centered practice through current and relevant research. If you have any questions for Dr. Williams, feel free to email at [email protected]
Learn more about Dr. Williams and his practice at https://www.amarillochiropractor.com. Dr. Williams's full-time Amarillo chiropractic practice is Creek Stone Integrated Care at 3501 SW 45th St., Ste. T, Amarillo, TX 79109
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Jeff S Williams, DC, FIANM, DABFP