A sedentary lifestyle can take a physical toll on those who spend their days sitting at a desk for hours on end. Recent research has demonstrated a link between the amount of time you spend sitting during the day with poorer health outcomes, and a greater risk of disease. In my practice, it is common for me to see patients who experience muscle strains, neck pain, and headaches, all related to computer use and long hours spent sitting without a break. The human body needs to move! The longer you spend in one position, the more stress and strain your muscles, ligaments, and joints must endure.
Repetitive and long term strain on your back and neck can result in muscle imbalances, contributing to bad posture. A common condition that can be caused by long hours of computer use is known as Upper Cross Syndrome (UCS). UCS results from a pattern of weakened muscles of the mid-back and neck, alongside overused and tightened muscles trying to counteract the steady pull of gravity. People with UCS often have forward slumped shoulders, rounding of their upper back and a forward jutting head. Sounds familiar? Besides perpetuating bad posture, UCS has a number of consequences for the body, both short and long term, that are important to consider. In the short term, you can experience discomfort and pain and may also have headaches associated with muscle strains. The muscle imbalance pattern of the upper back and neck may also put you at risk for arm pain and injury to the shoulders. In the long term, you may be at greater risk for degenerative joint disease of the upper back and neck, and osteoarthritis.
So what can you do to help your body feel better? To counteract the effects of sedentary tasks, take a number of short breaks throughout your day to keep your body moving, and break up the time spent hunched over your desk. The Canadian Chiropractic Association has created a great free app called Straighten Up Canada to help motivate you to take posture breaks throughout the day (it’s free, and available for Apple and android mobile devices). Your plan should also include stretching your overworked muscles (pecs, and upper traps) and strengthening those that have become weak. Exercises for your mid back that involve drawing your shoulder blades down and together can help strengthen the key muscles that help you to sit up straighter and feel better. A little effort throughout the day can go a long way towards improving your posture and reducing the long term stress and strain put on the joints of your neck and back.