Our life is increasingly dominated by extended periods at computers and this means that sustaining certain postures can lead to discomfort, pain and headaches. What starts out as a nuisance ache then becomes more persistent and severe. There is not one particular episode that causes the onset of postural pain, but rather an accumulation of daily muscular pains that progressively involve other tissues including spine and nerves. Corresponding changes occur in lung capacity, bone density, muscular strength and flexibility, spinal stiffness, vision, mood, and sleep. Unfortunately, this is now becoming more common especially during COVID-19 in which community movement and regular exercise has reduced. Our body’s internal sense of our physical self also changes leading to habits and positions that seem foreign to us when we view our image in a window or mirror stooping over.
The most effective ways to minimize neck and postural pain are summed up in these key points:
1. Move regularly and use time cues such as alarms to remind you
2. Effective stretching can be done in the chair
3. Sit back in your chair and support your arms on the desk
4. Improve your spine flexibility and strength
5. Practice mindfulness and body awareness
There is no correct or perfect posture. Someone with a rounded spine will naturally sit more rounded. To ask them to sit upright is asking for something unattainable and unsustainable. Rather than aiming for perfect posture, aim for better movement. Active sitting is a term I use to describe a situation whereby small changes of weight across your body activate and load different areas and this is critical in preventing static sitting pain. For example, sitting on a fit ball, or a sit disc, encourages movement;but too much of this, and your body gets fatigued. Utilising sit/stand desks and setting a timer/alarm that is time contingent will ensure regular changes in position.
Your mid back, neck and shoulders are the most common areas of postural discomfort. The aim with stretching is to reverse the forward leaning tendency and regain movement lost to stiffness.
Sitting back in your chair seems like a very obvious action, however many people do not actively engage the back of their chair with their spine. Having your back relaxed and supported by your chair is critical in limiting muscular fatigue. Lower your chair to allow your forearms to become supported by your desk. Having your arms unsupported leads to shoulder pain. Draw your head back towards your chair. When you are engaged with your work, your eyes drop and your body follows. Finally, checking your vision with an optometrist is important as eye strain can lead to headaches and altered head and neck positioning.