Sitting pretty: Proper sitting posture

Most of us spend more time at the office than we do at home, which is why it’s so important to consider how our behavior at the office can affect how we feel at home. If you sit at your computer for several hours each day, are you sitting pretty?

Before you look at yourself in the mirror, reflect on your desk and workspace. Specifically, says Alan Zovar, a physical therapist that works at Dandelion Dreams, Inc., (aPhysiquality partner), you should think about the angles in your body as they interact with your desk. Your eyes should be approximately 18 inches away from your computer screen, he says, and they should align with the middle of the screen, to avoid looking down or up too much, which could cause neck strain in the long run. In the same manner, your chair should be centered with the monitor to minimize twisting the head in order to see the screen.

Take a look at how you sit in your chair: Click to enlarge.Take a look at your chair now, and how you sit in it. Adjust the chair’s height in order to be able to rest your elbows at about a 90-degree angle on your desk; if the chair’s arms get in the way, it’s probably better to remove them, Alan notes.

Your forearms should be parallel to your desk and your wrists should be as flat as possible. Alan suggests using mouse and keyboard supports to maintain this posture. And your knees should also be bent at a 90-degree angle. If your feet don’t reach the floor, you can use a foot support in order to properly support the weight of your legs.

Once your desk is properly set up, you can think about your sitting posture. Lumbar support is essential to support the back and reduce back strain. If your office chair is not supportive enough, you can purchase a back support like the Kiss My Back! support from Dandelion Dreams, Inc. The back support will reinforce the natural curve of the lumbar spine. In turn, this straightens the neck, shoulders and upper back. When you’re sitting at your desk, your torso, neck and head should all be upright, without any slouching or straining.

Frequent phone users should use a headset to avoid balancing the phone between their shoulder and ear.Other office behaviors are just as important, reminds Richard Baudry, a physical therapist and the founder of Baudry Therapy Center, a Physiquality member in the New Orleans area. He cautions workers to keep their desk — and the space underneath it — clear of clutter, in order to enable easy movement around your workstation. Frequent phone users should use a headset to avoid balancing the phone between their shoulder and ear, which can create neck and back pain. And frequent movement is key — stand up once an hour to stretch your back or take a walk to the building cafeteria to grab a drink.

If you’re concerned about your workspace, use this OSHA worksheet to evaluate how your desk is set up. Or contact a physical therapist near you to evaluate your entire office, ensuring a healthier — and happier — team.

 

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Stress and back pain

We’ve written in the past about a variety of causes for back pain: poor posture, improper ergonomics at the office, even straining to lift heavy items like a baby improperly. But did you know that stress can also cause back pain?

The experts at Physiquality partner Kiss My Back! point out that any stress — from the home, the office, or the family — decreases oxygen to potential areas of discomfort, like the neck, shoulders and back. If you have a pre-existing condition or a history of chronic pain, this can exacerbate the problem.

Back pain often leads to less activity, which can increase the pain even more.To make it worse, “when someone is experiencing back pain,” says Laureen Dubeau, “they often decrease their activity level,” which leads to weaker muscles and joints — and more pain. A certified strength and conditioning specialist and MERRITHEW™ Master Instructor Trainer specializing in STOTT PILATES®, another Physiquality partner, Laureen cautions against letting the deep stabilizing muscles of the spine to weaken. If these muscles stop working to stabilize the spine, she says, the larger, superficial muscles become tense and overworked, which increases the pain (even more) and restricts movement.

If your stress leads to postural changes, like hunched shoulders, this will add to your muscular tension throughout your back. And if you start to lose sleep because of the stress, not only will you be crankier during the day, but your body won’t have the chance to recuperate and heal overnight, leading to… tense muscles and more pain.

So how can you break this cycle of stress and pain? Your physical therapist is an excellent resource for the best methods. In addition, being mindful of what is causing the stress and how you are handling it is vital. Kiss My Back! reminds readers that a lot of stress is caused by lack of or miscommunication. Talk to your colleagues or your family about what is creating the stress, and discuss ways to reduce the problems that are causing it.

Using a mind-body exercise like Pilates or yoga can allow you to strengthen your internal focus on your body, which calms the mind.Making time for exercise can also reduce both stress and pain. Laureen notes that increased activity will strengthen the muscles that support your back, while producing endorphins and increasing oxygen flow in your body, reducing pain in your back and elsewhere. Using a mind-body exercise like Pilates or yoga can also allow you to strengthen your internal focus on your body. This calms the mind, which improves your ability to deal with stress. In addition, she says, “the focus in Pilates on restoring ideal posture and reducing the force on joints can help restore a sense of support and control.”

Physiquality partner PowerPlay points out how important it is to be aware of your environment. Pay attention to how your desk is laid out at work, and make sure that it’s ergonomically correct. If you sleep on your stomach, consider sleeping on your side or your back, as it’s better for your back muscles, or read through these tips from the Mayo Clinic on how to improve your sleep posture when you have back pain. You may also need a new mattress or one that is more firm; if you haven’t bought one in the last 10 years, it’s time to start shopping. And don’t forget to think about what you wear every day — supportive footwear and a bag that is worn cross-body vs. over one shoulder can affect your back muscles as well.

In the short term, cold therapy, or even cold + compression therapy, can help to relieve pain, reminds Shawn Hickling, a physical therapist assistant and the founder of ActiveWrap, another Physiquality partner. If the back muscles are spasming, heat therapy, or a combination of heat and ice, may be better. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, known as NSAIDs, may also help to relieve pain, but beware of using them over a long time due to their side effects.

 

Challenge your office to be healthy

Did you know that May is Global Employee Health and Fitness Month? Created by the National Association for Health & Fitness (NAHF), a network of state-based councils and groups that promote healthy living, the group encourages daily physical activity and quality physical education in our schools. Through Global Employee Health and Fitness Month, the NAHF asks employers to create a workplace environment that promotes healthier living.

There are a variety of reasons to do this as a business owner or manager, or for employees to suggest it to their bosses. For a start, the CDC points out that healthier employees take fewer sick days, incur lower healthcare costs and are more productive; in fact, one study found that by promoting physical fitness and regular check-ups, employer healthcare costs could be cut in half. In addition, wellness programs can be seen by some prospective employees as a great benefit. It shows that the company is willing to invest in its employees, leading to a more positive work environment, better morale and higher retention.

“When it comes to encouraging employees to be active,” says Stefania Della Pia, “the key is to make exercise easily accessible.” Stefania is the senior program director of education and a master instructor trainer for MERRITHEW™, one of Physiquality’s partners. She encourages employers to remember the many commitments employees will have outside of work hours. She suggests incorporating activities into lunch hours, or offering after- or before-work activities on a schedule so that people have time to plan for them.

Here are some of the activities she suggests:

  • Bring in an instructor for on-site express workouts like yoga or Pilates.Bring in an instructor for on-site express workouts during the lunch hour in whatever modality best suits the office environment, whether it be Pilates, yoga, or another form of exercise.
  • Organize a team sport that everyone can get involved in, such as ultimate Frisbee, soccer or scavenger hunts.
  • Sign up an office team for a local charity walk or run.
  • Encourage employees to walk, bike or jog to work by providing parking spaces for bikes, and provide access to showers for those who choose the sweatier route.
  • Partner with a local gym or Pilates studio to offer employees a discount to work out on their own time.

Another resource for office fitness challenges is your local physical therapist. As musculoskeletal experts, physical therapists are experts in how the body moves. Many PTs do fitness and wellness assessments. Why not partner with a local therapist to challenge your office to make healthier choices? The PT can come in on the first and last days of the month to assess each team member before and after the challenge, as well as weekly on-site visits for coaching or wellness presentations. “Using a health and wellness expert like a physical therapist might encourage employees or fellow workers to see how healthier choices can affect how they feel in and out of the office,” says Mitch Kaye, PT, PTPN‘s director of quality assurance.

These healthy competitions are a great way to encourage employees to support each other create a health-centered atmosphere.If your office challenge is made of up activities outside of the office, be sure to find ways to track people’s progress so it can be celebrated and rewarded. Fitness trackers from companies like Polar, another Physiquality partner, can be used to count numbers of steps or active minutes, calories burned or distance traveled. If everyone in the office has a Polar device, they can even create in-office challenges, where Polar works with the team leader to determine the challenge and teams. Or the entire office can sign up at the GEHFM website to compete against each other and raise money for charities. These healthy competitions are a great way to encourage employees to support each other in achieving fitness goals, and they create a health-centered atmosphere, notes Stefania.

Employers can offer a wide range of rewards to encourage these healthy competitions. Simple rewards can be gift cards (to a juice bar or sports equipment store) for the most steps in a month, or the most active team in the office. Stefania suggests recognizing the month’s winner by highlighting her accomplishment in a company newsletter or on social media, or host an appreciation breakfast or lunch at the end of the challenge to acknowledge everyone that participated. If you really want to underscore your company’s commitment to healthy and active living, she says, “every quarter, or every year, offer a substantially larger reward, such as a trip or a piece of fitness equipment, to keep employees interested in ongoing health and fitness initiatives.”

 

Step away from the computer!

With the evolution of technology, people are spending more time at their desks and less time moving around at the workplace. The New York Times pointed out in 2011 that “jobs requiring moderate physical activity, which accounted for 50% of the labor market in 1960, have plummeted to just 20%.” And while the New York Times story emphasized how such changes in the workplace are a big factor contributing to the obesity issues plaguing Americans, there are many more reasons we should all try to step away from our desks now and then. Read More

Workplace ergonomics

More than ever before, Americans are sitting in front of computers for hours at a time, whether at work or at play. Have you thought about how your posture at your desk or the layout of your workspace can affect your health? Read More