Recent studies have shown that prolonged sitting can be detrimental to overall health, but a few adjustments in posture or your workspace can make a huge difference.
In working with clients to relieve minor and/or chronic pain, I always look at the initial cause of the pain/injury, as well as identifying those activities and conditions that could be perpetuating the injury and resulting pain. I talk with people about posture and how they sit, because bad posture is one of the main culprits for pain in the back, shoulders and neck. Bad posture, improper sitting and a sedentary lifestyle can all create pain as well as exacerbate an existing condition or injury if not corrected.
Additionally, right after you sit down, your heart rate and the impulse activity in your muscles slow down and your caloric burn rate drops to around one calorie per minute. This is about a third of the calories that you burn during mild physical activity, such as walking. If you are prone to sitting for long periods, this can lead to more severe consequences including arthritis, type 2 diabetes and poor circulation, just to name a few.
Proper Sitting Tips – At the Office
The #1 problem I see occurring in office settings seems to be bad ergonomics and posture at a desk. If not corrected, these common situations may lead to more serious health issues down the road.
For example, improper back and lumbar support, “slumping” or leaning over in your chair and leaning forward to see your computer screen, are all common bad habits found in most office settings that create tension in the back, shoulders and hips, leading to more serious issues over time. Adjusting your chair to the proper height, moving your monitor closer or getting reading glasses can be easy fixes for these situations. Having your computer screen too high or too low or not directly in front of you can cause you to bend your neck in a manner that creates tension and possible long term problems if not corrected. Not having arm rests on your office chair or arm rests that are improperly adjusted (too high or too low) will cause the arms to be improperly supported resulting in additional pressure to the neck, shoulders and wrists. Also, your wrists should always be straight, not bent. When your wrists are bent, it puts additional pressure on these areas and creates constriction of the carpal tunnel in the wrist which can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome if not corrected.
Proper Sitting Tips – In Your Car
We spend so much time in our cars, especially here in Southern California, where the traffic gets heavy and commute times are longer than average. Bad posture and improper support while sitting in a car can create pain and exacerbate injuries. I’ve also seen instances where someone is either too tall or too short for their car, and no amount of adjustment of the seat and steering wheel will correct the bad posture created by the situation. If someone spends more than 1 hour a day driving, then this can create repetitive stress and pain. It’s not just repetitive movement that creates soft tissue damage and pain, but repetitive non-movement (as in prolonged sitting) can cause painful conditions as well. For instance, when we sit for hours in a car or at a computer, some muscles (like our hip flexors and ham strings) become over-shortened. Over time, taut bands of muscle fibers develop (“knots”) and trigger points follow, which can create debilitating pain and reduce job effectiveness and productivity.
When sitting in a car, your shoulders should be relaxed and the back rest should not be leaning too far back. Head rest should not be pushing head forward but lying just to the back of the head to protect the head and neck from being whipped backward in the event of an accident. Your arms should not be held straight out in front – this puts too much weight and stress on the shoulders. Rather, your elbows should be bent to take the strain off the shoulders. Seat position should not be so far back that legs are straight in front of you. Legs should be bent at the knees with foot resting comfortably on gas pedal or clutch.
Proper Sitting Tips – At Home
Much like sitting at your desk, bad sitting habits and repetitive slumping when sitting at home can cause long term issues as described above. When you are at home, slouching on the couch can cause accumulative muscle strain, as can sitting in a “comfy” worn-out chair that no longer gives you proper support. Many people don’t want to give up that favorite old chair because it’s so “comfy”. What they don’t realize, is that it’s most likely damaging them and adding to their physical pain. It’s like an old mattress that gets worn out in the middle and no longer provides proper back support, or a pair of worn out shoes. When it no longer provides proper support, it’s time to get rid of that old chair and get a new one.
Proper Sitting Quick Tips
- Don’t slump or lean (left, right or forward) in your seat.
- Be conscious of your posture as you are sitting and make sure your back/neck are straight.
- Make sure to have to have proper lumbar support.
- Make sure your feet are in proper position – flat on floor (desk/home) or on pedals (car).
- Adjust armrests properly and make sure they are bent, not straight out.
- Wrists should be straight and not bent when typing.
- Remember to stand up and try to move or walk around once an hour.
- Use a timer on your phone to remind yourself to get up.
- Try to stretch when you get up and/or do desk stretches.
- Try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day.
Remedies and Ergonomics
With the information provided here, you should be able to make some noticeable improvements in sitting habits and start to correct some of what is hurting your body. As we typically spend so many hours of our waking days at work, this tends to be the main culprit for creating sitting-related problems. Neuromuscular Therapy and Trigger Point Therapy are both recommended for countering the harmful effects of prolonged sitting.
Recently I have been requested to visit several offices for varying businesses in my local San Juan Capistrano community as well as other parts of Orange County, to assist with ergonomically optimizing their employee work spaces. The problems found can range from old chair issues to improper chair and/or monitor positioning, to even more severe issues. If left unchecked, these problems can lead to fatigue, unproductivity and even worse, health issues that may keep employees away from work altogether. These conditions also put a great strain on employee benefits and can cause additional costs in worker’s compensation premiums if repetitive issues arise.
For the owner of a small business or manager of a larger company, these issues can become very costly over time. The great news is that with some proper ergonomics and sitting techniques implemented, productivity can be improved and sitting related pain and injury may be all but eliminated.
If you are a small-to-medium sized business owner, manager or director looking to improve productivity and reduce work related injuries, I offer an office ergonomics program to improve your staff’s workspace. This is a great way to help your employees stay healthy and productive in their work and will save your business countless dollars over the long-term. To schedule an office ergonomics consultation at your Orange County, CA. office or workspace, give me a call at (949) 496-2821.
About The Author
Maria Martos is the Executive Director and Founder of the Cancer Support and Education Program, and has been owner of Sagewood Wellness Center for 20 years. As a Certified Neuromuscular Therapist, Maria specializes in the treatment of severe, chronic or minor pain, as well as injury rehabilitation and prevention. She holds a certification in Sports Massage providing her with expertise to evaluate and address athletic injuries and to help professional and recreational athletes improve their athletic performance. Maria is also Board Certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. She holds a Master of Science in Counseling Psychology, and offers Holistic Counseling, focusing on Integrative Mind-Body Therapy to help individuals uncover and remove unconscious blocks that limit them from living their best lives. She is also a Reiki Master and Teacher, and has worked in the health care field for over 25 years. Her passion and life’s calling is to help others not just survive, but thrive in the face of challenges.