Our sedentary lifestyle is one of the biggest reasons for rampant musculoskeletal pain. After all, cavemen ran to hunt and gather — and generally lived the opposite of what most of us “desk jockeys” do all day: sitting, hunched over in front of a screen.
In fact, even if you work out regularly, it’s not enough to combat the constant forward tug of modern-day living: slouching for seven or more hours a day, text messaging, driving in a car on a long commute and eating at your desk.
All of this can lead to what I call "disuse syndrome," when your muscles aren't given enough to do and they become weaker and smaller as a result.
And while these daily conditions aren’t going to change anytime soon, there are lots of easy actions you can take to help ward off the negative effects — at work, on the go, and at home.
Methods for the Office:
Bottom line: You need to make sure you don't remain still in the same position for a long time. Here are some of my favorite methods:
- Every 30 minutes get up and do something, whether it's going to the printer, filling up your water glass or taking a quick standing stretch. Even better, instead of emailing a co-worker, go over to her desk to have a conversation about the topic in-person.
- Shift your weight every few minutes. Lean back, arch your back and move a bit to take the pressure off of the forward hunch.
- Head out of the office and take a brisk walk. The fresh air and motion will help fight the effects of sitting too long in one position.
- Ergonomics are important, so make sure your legs are at 90 degrees, as well as your elbows in relation to your keyboard. And your eyes should be level with the top of your computer screen.
- To counteract the forward hunch, lie on an exercise ball (above) or rolled up towel. The cobra pose from yoga is also an effective way to let your spine curve backward slightly, extending and loosening your back muscles, opening your chest and permitting deeper breathing. You can do this in your office — just ignore the stares of your co-workers, or even better, invite them to join!
Methods for On-to-Go:
Though we spend most of our day sitting at the office, it’s also important to be mindful of what you do outside of work, while you're commuting or walking around.
- Text with your phone out in front of you. Raise your phone with your arms so that you are looking at it eye-level with your neck straight. (The correct form is pictured here.) Get into this habit and it'll be a major relief on your neck.
- Be conscious of your body position. Do you keep a heavy wallet in your back pocket? Do you sit in a slouching position driving to work or on the commuter train? Do you wear a heavy handbag on the same shoulder all the time? Try not to carry anything too heavy on one side of your body, as it can promote imbalances.
Methods for Home:
Getting good-quality sleep is also crucial, in order to get your body primed for a day at the office.
- Make sure you're using a medium-firm mattress in good shape. A water pillow can also help.
- Set the tone for sleep by not checking anxiety-inducing e-mails in the evening.
- Before bed, try some stretching or meditation, focusing on breathing.
Lastly, according to my three-pronged approach to back health, diet and emotions are also important.
A varied, healthy diet is best, so aim to eat something different at every meal to reduce inflammation and aid with digestion. Enjoy a variety of tastes and make food an adventure. Managing your stress and emotions at work will also help to make you feel healither.
Overall, the key to not letting your desk job cause you pain is to switch things up as much as possible — whether it's your body position, your heavy bag, or your lunch.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock, David Zanes, David Zanes