Human Performance and Rehabilitation Centers, Inc.

Sit Up Straight: How Workplace Posture Impacts Health

For a growing number of professionals, the cumulative effects of working behind a desk can take their toll. Years of pecking away at a computer and talking on the phone can lead to a variety of issues, including headaches, stiffness, and pain in the shoulders, middle back and neck. There’s hope, though. These issues can be effectively addressed through physical therapy and by making adjustments to your everyday posture.

We see patients routinely who experience pain that we can link directly to the way they sit at work. The modern world has created all sorts of demands that don’t square with our bodies’ natural movements. We are not designed to perch in uncomfortable chairs six to eight hours a day, and as the years go by, our body rebels by expressing pain. Physical therapists address these issues by using interventions that can effectively remove stiffness. We also help patients strengthen muscles in the upper back to provide additional support to the neck and shoulders. And, we make specific recommendations for postural adjustments so that pain does not return.

Improving the way you sit at a desk goes a long way. Here are some recommendations:

  • Your feet should touch the floor completely. For people under 5’5”, this can be a challenge as most desks are made for taller people. Use a box or stool if needed.
  • You should be able to place your forearm on your desk or your elbows on arm rests while typing at a keyboard.
  • Your knees should be at a 90-degree angle when you sit, making sure your knees are in line with your hips.
  • Don’t crane your neck to talk on the phone. Use a headset.
  • Ideally, your computer screen should be at eye level.

One of the most important issues to remember is that the body doesn’t like being stagnant. Set a timer and take a “micro-break” every 20 minutes. I can hear the work-a-haulics groaning, but this doesn’t have to take long – a mere 10-15 seconds is all that’s required to stand up and stretch. It’s a simple strategy that goes a long way in protecting your health and warding off pain.

My aching back: Using physical therapy to address low back pain

If you’ve experienced low back pain, you’re not alone. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes, about 80% of American adults – both men and women – will experience low back pain at some point in their lives. For many patients, physical therapy is an effective tool in improving low back pain and restoring strength and function.

The low back, or lumbar region, is an incredibly important part of the body. Comprised of five vertebrae, the low back supports the weight of the upper body as we go about our daily lives. Multiple components have to work together for the low back to function properly. Soft cushions or discs between the vertebrae act like shock absorbers as we walk, lift, run and jump. Ligaments hold the vertebrae in place. Tendons attach the muscles to the spinal column. Finally, dozens of pairs of nerves are embedded in the spinal cord. Each of these parts works in tandem, so when something is compromised, we feel pain.

No two patients experiencing lower back pain are built exactly the same, which is why a physical therapy setting can be so effective in addressing a patient’s issues and body mechanics. Our goal is to restore normal physiological motion in the low back through tested hands-on therapy techniques that zero in on each joint. In many cases, this mechanical approach is a much more effective – and certainly less invasive – than surgery.

Some of the patients we see experience pain due to spinal stenosis, or the narrowing of spaces in the spine. This is usually caused by age, normal wear-and-tear or arthritis. As joints grow harder and more narrow over time, they can encroach on the nerves that are rooted there. When that happens, the nerves become compressed. We use techniques including traction modalities, manual therapy, joint manipulations and extension exercises both in the clinic and at home.  These therapies help give the nerves more room to function and can help reduce pain in our patients.