Your smartphone pings. You reach far over to your left to pick it up. Then you bend your neck forward to read the message. Finally, you hunch over your phone and begin typing a response.
What’s wrong with this picture? What’s you optimal ergonomics? Each of these movements strains specific muscles. And when you add them up over a seven-to-eight hour workday, week after week, it can lead to chronic soreness in your neck, back and other muscles.
But with a few simple fixes, most workers can avoid the aches and pains that can occur whether you work at an office or from home. “Once people practice better posture and body alignment, they release tension, become more flexible and have less pain,” says chiropractor Petrusia Kotlar, DC, with Atlantic Health System’s Chambers Center for Well-Being
Four Common Office Strains and Pains
Among the health conditions that poor workplace ergonomics can create include:
- Text Neck – When people look down at their phones, they often bend their neck forward. Doing so repeatedly can lead to stiffness and soreness, a condition known as anterior neck flexion, or “text neck.” Yet the name is a bit misleading because text neck can also spread between your shoulder blades and to the middle of your back. “With text neck, our necks are pushed forward to a degree where the natural cervical curve is almost reversed,” Dr. Kotlar says. “When that happens, it changes the posture of our middle back, creating additional pain.”
- Shoulder and neck pain – Improper posture at work can cause soreness in the trapezius muscles, which are located in the area between your shoulder blades. “The trapezius muscles help you move your head, neck, arms, shoulders and torso,” Dr. Kotlar says. “Their job is to help you maintain proper posture, but they can become sore if you’re sitting improperly for long periods of time.”
- Lower back pain – Most low-back soreness associated with poor posture comes from an overall reduction of flexibility. “When we’re less active, our hip flexor—the muscle that lets you flex your knee up toward your body—shortens over time, reducing our range of motion and causing pain,” Dr. Kotlar says.
- Cervicogenic headaches – These chronic headaches actually start in the soft tissue of the neck due as a person’s range of motion starts to decrease. The pain then is referred to the up to head.
Six Ways to Avoid Workplace Aches and Pains
Setting up your work or home office for maximum comfort can help you avoid these common problems. It also may relieve any pain you’re currently experiencing. Six best practices:
- Strive to sit up straight. Sit with your elbows and knees at 90-degree angles to the floor. Keep your keyboard close enough that you don’t need to extend your wrists. If you struggle to stay comfortable in that position, sitting on a stool may help. “On a stool, you tend to sit back further and not bring your neck forward because your head isn’t hitting the headrest on a chair,” Dr. Kotlar says.
- Keep items within reach. Sit squared off in front of your computer screen. Place objects you use regularly within reach, so you don’t have to stretch awkwardly or turn your head often to find them. If you work from home, sit at a desk or table. Do not work from the couch or bed.
- Take frequent breaks. Set an alarm to go off every 30 to 60 minutes to remind yourself to get up, stretch or take a walk. Avoid eating at your desk. Consider incorporating Brugger’s Postural Relief Exercise, a 20-second stretch. “It’s like a reset button for your posture,” Dr. Kotlar says. To do it:
- Sit with your buttocks at the edge of a chair.
- Spread your legs apart and turn out your toes slightly.
- Rest your weight on your feet.
- Arch your lower back.
- Lift your chest up.
- Rotate your arms outward with palms held high.
- Hold your head up high.
- Take three deep breaths.
- Watch your phone posture. Try not to look down at your phone from above. “If you find this hard and are on your phone for long periods of time, you may find relief by lying on the floor and putting your legs up on a wall, so your phone is in front of your face and your body is at a 90-degree angle,” Dr. Kotlar says.
- Try a wedge. Different from a traditional lumbar support, wedge pillows are designed to prevent low back pain. “The wedge allows your lower black to flatten and stabilizes your spine so your weight disburses over your core muscles, not just your back,” Dr. Kotlar says.
- Take yoga. Watch and follow a chair yoga class on YouTube, or sign up for a. “Yoga will lengthen the muscles that are contracting and help improve overall flexibility” Dr. Kotlar says.
When to seek help. “Everyone should have a full range of motion in all directions,” Dr. Kotlar says. “If you don’t or you’re in pain it’s time to see a healthcare provider.” Everyone needs optimal ergonomics.
Chiropractors like Dr. Kotlar can perform a postural analysis that measures the amount of structural alignment—or misalignment—in the body. A chiropractor can then make adjustments and offer remedies to help you regain alignment, improve your posture, and alleviate pain.
Want to see how a chiropractor might help you? Request an appointment today.