Essential tips for home workers during Covid19 to avoid the pain of poor posture
During these troubled times a lot of us are home working. At work we will have probably had an HSE assessment for our workstation and maybe we have had special chairs or equipment provided to help us sit more comfortably then suddenly we were told we had to work from home a few weeks ago leaving all these aids behind. Now you have been working from home for a few weeks maybe you are starting to experience neck or shoulder pain because you are not sitting comfortably.
So here are 5 tips on how to improve your posture when sitting at a computer.
#1 What kind of chair are you sitting on?
I prefer a plain old stool. Chair backs make you lazy and stop your back muscles from working properly. If we use a chair with lots of lumber support this doesn't help strengthen your back muscles, so when we do other activities we already have weaknesses in our back. It's no wonder we are prone to slipped discs when we attempt a spot of gardening or DIY. A useful tool I show my clients is the use of a foam wedge to sit on. This encourages a more upright posture and is a good investment rather than buying a posh office chair.
#2 Notice where your feet are
Are your feet tucked under the chair? Are your legs crossed? We all know these are bad habits, but they are seriously bad habits that can cause overarching in the lower spine. You need your legs and feet to help support the weight of your upper body so place them flat on the floor.
#3 Locate your sitting bones and use them!
When seated slide your hand underneath your bottom and locate the two knobbly bits - these are your sitting bones and form the basis of the support for your upper body when sitting. Now slump, what do you notice (you are no longer sitting on your sitting bones?). Find your sit bones again - you will probably feel more balanced and poised and on your way to better posture.
#4 Wear your invisible crown
Imagine you are wearing an invisible crown and think into the top of your head as your spine lengthens towards the crown of your head. Alternatively you could think of the upper molars (the teeth at the back) moving away from your sitting bones. You may get a sense of your torso lengthening at this point.
#5 Notice any tension in your shoulders
Your arms and shoulders work more efficiently when you are sitting upright. The arm is a ball and socket joint that hangs beneath the shoulder girdle. Let your arms hang down to the side of you. Observe any tension in your shoulders and allow them to soften. Slumping causes us to have rounded shoulders and a rounded upper torso, which can develop into a dowagers hump.
Now think about the hands leading the arms towards your desk and the computer. Practice initially with the palms of your hands on the desk, think about your shoulders softening, releasing any tension you may have and let the elbows hang down. Turn your attention back to your sitting bones and feel the support of the chair - think about your torso lengthening. You are now ready to start work.
If you need to lean over your desk it's useful to know where your hip joint is. Most people think it's to the side of the pelvis when it's actually where your trouser pocket is. This is not only where we bend but we can also use this joint to maintain an upright posture and straight back when sitting. So to lean forward go over the hip joint keeping a nice straight back.
A quick recap
* You have sit bones so use them more. Why not put a post it note on the edge of your computer screen to remind you.
* Think into your invisible crown and notice if your shoulders are opening out naturally or if they're rounded or raised. Allow them to soften.
* Apply these basic skills and you'll soon be on your way to having better posture.
And in the words of Alexander
What does freedom mean to you? - this was a trailer I heard for a programme on the radio coming up next week. The trailer included excerpts from famous people talking about the usual things associated with freedom such as liberty to do what you want to when you want to. However this got me thinking and I think its many things not only the above but if you have mobility problems your freedom is restricted in a different way as you are unable to fulfil a life that you want to. I was in this situation around 14 years ago. I was active, competative and filled my life with doing stuff. Being sedentary was not for me but suddenly I was trapped and my lower back was ceased up, I had horrendous sciatica and I even had to rely on a neighbour to drive me to the chiropractor.
Over time my back pain got better but the sciatica persisted and it was really very dibilitating, my freedom was certainly curtailed. I needed to find a solution quick. By chance my friend suggested I try Alexander Technique lessons but this was not a quick fix she said. I didn't care as I wanted to find a permanant solution to my pain. I was fortunate that after a few sessions of Alexander Technique lessons that my pain started to dissipate and I was able to return to what I wanted to do and lead a very active life.
So essentially learning the Alexander Technique has enabled me to experience the freedom I believe we should be able to do. I am very active sailing, cycling, playing golf and skiing.
How does the Alexander Technique help? It helps us to achieve freedom of movement. How does it do this? Well many of us have a very faulty awareness of the functionality of movement. Let's call it faulty living anatomy. I think its essential that we learn where our joints are located that are used in primary movement first such as for going from sitting to standing (& the reverse!) bending (and I don't mean the HSE ergonomic idea of bending of back straight and knees bent) and also our points of support and hence balance when we are standing and walking. I don't really care about real anatomy - the proper names of body parts its the useful bits of how we function and use our body that are important if we are to achieve balance, poise and freedom of movement.
Let's try this little example of how to get in and out of a chair.
- To attain balance in the chair we need to locate our sitting bones. Place your hands underneath your bottom and locate the two knobbly bits. These are your sitting bones.
- Now allow your attention to go into the space above your head, think of your spine lengthening upwards as your head releases upwards.
- Rock backwards and forwards in the chair continuing to think about length up the spine.
- Next time as you rock forwards go onto your feet and extend upwards to stand up with your head leading you.
- You should have found this an easier way to stand up out of a chair.
Walking - a lesson in observation
It's a beautiful summers day today but how many people have taken the time or have the awareness to observe the little things going on around them?
Most people from my experience of asking where they look and have their vision directed will probably be looking no more than 30 feet in front and for a lot of people it will be a great deal closer than that. Why I often ask and they reply that they need to see what they are walking on and where they are going to take their steps, there is a fear of falling, tripping or standing in something unwanted. I then counter this by suggesting that the only way you can actually see where you are going to place your feet is by directly looking down at our feet which is very difficult and none of us want to do that.
So what is actually going on when we are walking. Our eyes act as receptors for the brain and take in information which then used to adapt to where we walk and our balance or propreoception also adapts to changes in the surface so minor adjustments are made to how we walk. Now this can be done by looking 30 feet in front or 100 feet in front of us as the brain is still taking in the information and processing it and making corrections or changes as required.
As I have previously discussed in other blogs the head is very heavy (about 10-14lbs) and if you lower your vision and drop your head this will put a huge strain on the muscles supporting your neck and be a potential cause of neck pain. So next time you are out walking try being more aware of your surroundings notice where the focus of your vision is and be more attentive.
In terms of how we walk there is no correct way to walk but there are ways to improve our fluidity and balance when walking. So here are a few pointers. Firstly, think of your support from the ground, the soles of your feet, sense your socks in your shoes and really let the ground support you. From this base we can think obout the support that our skeleton gives us - up the shins, up the thighs, through the pelvis and up the spine to the crown of the head and including the space above our head. When we are walking it is important that we maintain our true height, often people enter a purposeful "stoop" as soon as they walk (not a good look!). Rather than taking large srides, try shortening your stride a bit as large strides can create a shock through your heels and up through your knees. Try thinking of the back foot rolling from the heel towards your toes as your weight shifts forwards resulting in a spring off the bendy part of your foot. As you spring off your back foot think tall. Try this walking slowly at first maybe barefoot in the house and as you speed up just let your arms swing naturally with the rythmm of your walking. If your arms don't swing it probably means there is some stiffness somewhere and you are hindering your movement to some degree.
So give this a go and remember in walking there is no right or wrong just habit.
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