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Postural changes from working at a computer

by Dominique Vanier, B.Sc.H., M.Env.Sc., on 23 August 2016, Muscle and joint
postural-changes

Canadian adults spend an average of 10 hours a day of their waking hours being sedentary. Much of this time is spent sitting in front of screens, whether it’s a computer, smart phone, tablet, television – you name it.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that, in fact, prolonged sitting is a risk factor for all-cause mortality, independent of physical activity…

Habitually sitting for long periods of time is linked to deleterious health outcomes that include cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

Much of this sedentary time is spent staring at a computer, whether at a desk job, studying, or during commuting. Unfortunately, there is evidence that spinal posture is altered with increasing computer use, leading to adaptive neuromuscular changes.

Interestingly, it seems that postural changes vary between females and males. A study with more than 800 adolescent males and females found that for females, increased computer use was associated with increased lumbar lordosis – the curve located at the base of your back. Prolonged computer use by males, however, was associated with increased head and neck flexion. These findings are important because they suggest that computer use in youth may alter their developing neuromuscular system.

But these changes are only a few of many potential postural adaptations that can occur while spending those late nights working away at the computer.

Upper cross syndrome (UCS) is a common consequence of working at a computer.  In UCS, the upper traps and pectoralis muscles are too tight, and the neck cervical flexors and middle and lower traps are too weak. This leads to multiple postural imbalances, including a forward head posture, elevated and rounded shoulders, and an excessive curvature of the thoracic spine (thoracic kyphosis).

Often, the first clues in developing UCS are the chronic headache, neck, back, and shoulder pain that comes with the postural changes.

Luckily, there are many natural approaches to strengthening and lengthening the muscles associated with neck and back pain caused by working at a computer, such as:

  • Use an adjustable stand-up desk. Stand-up desks are a great way to prevent postural changes associated with working at a computer, providing that the work-station has correct ergonomics. As a rule, the top of the computer monitor should be at or below eye level, elbows at 90 degrees, wrists straight, and shoulders back and depressed.
  • Strengthen weak muscles and stretch tight ones. It’s important to strengthen mid-back muscles, particularly the rhomboids and lower traps, which will help prevent the shoulders from rolling forward. Stretching the pectoralis and upper trap muscles can reduce pain associated with poor posture.
  • Get symptomatic relief. Absolüt Arnica Gel can sooth muscle inflammation from tight, overworked muscles. Try applying arnica gel 2-3 times daily on upper back and chest muscles.
  • Clean up your diet. Being overweight can lead to poor posture linked to back pain, especially in children and adolescents. Maintaining a healthy body-mass-index (BMI) by eating a clean diet full of lean protein, fruits and vegetables, and complex carbohydrates may help shed extra pounds and ease the stresses placed on your spine from excess weight.
  • Take hourly walks at work. While exercise is imperative for maintaining proper posture, taking 1-3 minute breaks to walk around during the workday can reduce your risk of developing back pain.
  • De-stress. Stress causes muscles to tense up, which can further worsen already poor posture. Engaging in de-stressing activities like yoga or using lavender essential oil can help relax the mind and body, and help decrease resting tone of muscles.

References:
http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2015001/article/14135-eng.htm
http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/crtc-telecom-report-1.3290603
http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1108810
http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2091327
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1936962/
http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/standing-workstation/art-20088544
http://www.alliedacademies.org/articles/the-relationship-between-postural-deviations-and-body-mass-index-amonguniversity-students.pdf
http://news.curtin.edu.au/media-releases/obesity-in-childhood-leads-to-poor-posture-and-back-pain/
http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20150119/too-much-sitting-can-be-deadly—-even-if-you-exercise-review-finds#1
http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-body.aspx
https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2012/11_0323.htm

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