Parklodge Medical Centre
|Many of us spend most of our working day hunched over a PC or laptop in semi-paperless offices. Whilst great for company productivity, sitting all day in a relatively constrained and unvarying posture is not ideal.|
This is a very different situation to the office of even twenty years ago, when typewriters, paper files, filing cabinets and photocopiers meant that workers got up and moved many times during a working day.
Now, with email and internet on the desk, paninis and coffee delivered to the door, some people never leave their station until ‘quitting time’. Even if your desk and chair have been ergonomically fitted to you, sustained sitting at work is not to be recommended and can actually be deleterious to your health over time.
Areas most at risk include the neck and upper shoulders, the wrists and fingers, the lower back, muscles of the eye, and blood flow from the legs back to the heart.
There are easy thing you can do to stave off posture related problems. The first is simply to be aware that prolonged sitting is bad for you. Make a concerted decision to get out of your chair to get a drink of water every 45 minutes or so. If you find that when engrossed in work you forget to get up, set the alarm on your computer or mobile phone to ring every 45 minutes as a reminder. Once you hear this, though, you must use it as a trigger to move: don’t just turn it off without getting up.
Once standing up, counteract the bending forwards sitting position by making a point of stretching your spine backwards. For best results, place your feet slightly apart, gently lock your knees and hands on your hips, lean backwards as far as you can. Hold this position for 5 seconds. If you have time, or if you feel stiff when you do this, repeat this stretch action three times. You may be quite surprised how much more comfortable you feel when you return to your desk.
There are some great exercises you can perform in seconds from your chair. The old idea of rolling the head around in a circle is not suggested today, for various reasons. Instead here are six desk exercises specifically designed for neck, eyes, shoulders and arms.
|1.||Vigorously shrug you shoulders up towards your ears, then dropping them as far down as possible. Repeat ten times. When you finish make sure the shoulders are down when you start back to work.|
|2.||Rotate your head as far as possible to either side, bringing your chin as close to the shoulder as you can. Then change to bend the head from side to side, stretching the side of the neck as you do so. Aim to do 5 rotations and 5 side-bends.|
|3.||To relax hard working eye muscles, look over the top of your VDU at a point in the distance. Focus directly on this point, then look away. Refocus on the distant point 3-5 times over the course of 60 seconds. This reduces fatigues in the shorter focusing eye muscles from sustained VDU use.|
|4.||With your shoulders down, take a deep breath, pulling air right down to your diaphragm. Hold the breath for five seconds, then expire through your mouth. Repeat three times. This is also a superb stress buster!|
|5.||Raise your arms fully overhead, straightening the elbows fully. Now flick the hands forward and backwards at the wrist. Do 10 of these to improve blood supply to tired keyboarding and mousing fingers.|
|6.||Stretch one arm out straight in front of you, elbow extended. Start with the palm of hand facing the floor. Now using the other hand actively pull the fingers one after the other back towards you. Repeat on the other side.|
|In the legs, prolonged sitting even in the most comfortable office chair causes compression on the back of the thighs. This slows down venous blood from retuning to the heart. The simple sign of this is swollen and puffy ankles at the end of a day’s work. Remedial action is easy. You need to get blood pumping through your legs. One way is to performing a heel-toe action even sitting in your chair by bending and straightening the ankles rapidly. Aim to do twenty in a row or 30 seconds worth to achieve real benefit. |
An even better version is to stand beside the printer, rocking up onto tip-toes, back onto heels as you wait to collect your most recent printout. This dramatically assists blood flow from the lower legs and works wonders for the shape of calves and ankles (for both women and men!)
The final point is probably the most obvious. Avoid prolonged sitting by being more active throughout the working day. Use every opportunity to get up and move around. Take the stairs instead of the lift to work the leg muscles and improve blood return. Walk to the canteen for lunch or take a 20 minute brisk stroll at lunchtime instead of eating at your desk.
Mairead O’Riordan, MSc, MISCP is a senior Chartered Physiotherapist & CEO of TherapyXperts, an allied health network dedicated to clinical excellence.