Long days spent sitting at a desk are sure to cause a few aches and pains. Chief among them are back, neck and wrist strain. Dr. Michael Cooney, of Rutherford Allied Medical Group and Calmare Pain Therapy in Bergen County, N.J. has over 30 years of experience as a chiropractor specializing in the treatment and prevention of neck and back pain. He says while back pain is the most common complaint of individuals who spend long period of time in sedentary positions, it is completely avoidable.
Follow these four tips and keep your business pain free.
1. Get an ergonomic assessment.
Sitting at a computer for several consecutive hours can cause muscle fatigue in the back, neck and wrists, but Cooney says in many cases, this can be remedied by a proper ergonomic workspace setup. Placing the keyboard so that elbows are bent at a 90 degree angle can prevent wrist extension. A keyboard that’s too high or too low can cause the ligaments surrounding the wrists to tighten and can lead to corporal tunnel syndrome.
Similarly, a monitor placed below eye level creates a tendency to lean forward with the neck. “This causes almost a whiplash action in that it reverses the normal curve within the neck. The more you reduce that curve over a period of time, the less mobility you will have and the more fatigue you will have in the neck and shoulder region,” says Cooney. He recommends the monitor be placed at a level that allows the neck and head to be in a neutral position.
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The problem, however, is that since many of us now work on laptops, a proper keyboard angle for the wrists may not be the best position for the monitor. Cooney recommends individuals spending long hours working on computers invest in separate components that allow for greater flexibility and a more ergonomically correct environment.
2. Change your chair.
Lumbar support and seat pads may help relieve lower back pain, but Cooney says the tendency is with these aids is still to lean forward causing chronic stress on the spine. Instead, he recommends a kneeling chair that has a fixed seat with a 30 degree slope and padded support for the knees. “Because of the angle, [the kneeling chair] forces you to sit up straight and maintains a neutral position of the spine,” says Cooney. Kneeling chairs also allow hip flexors to lengthen and put less pressure on the lower back by preventing slouching.
3. Get up and move.
Getting up from the desk every 45 minutes to one hour changes the stress placed on one particular muscle group to maintain the seated position and can avoid muscle strain. Cooney says simply going for a five minute walk up and down the hallway can be enough. “The more blood flow you get to the muscle, the faster it will relax,” says Cooney.
In addition to taking a walk, Cooney recommends doing simple stretches to ease tension in the wrists and back – the two areas most prone to computer-related pain. Wrist extension and flection by holding the top of your hand pushing it forward and pushing your fingers into your palm to push the hand backwards helps to stretch the ligaments and tendons in the forearm which tend to get tight and shortened after a day of computer work. Hamstring stretches such as bending down to touch toes can help alleviate back pain. “The biggest culprit in lower back issues is the hamstrings so you want to stretch the hamstrings to lessen the stress on the lower back,” says Cooney.
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