Moving often may be the most important tip for preventing computer-related pain. Any posture (sitting, standing, slouched, upright, etc.) for prolonged periods can lead to pain in various areas.1-9,34 In fact there’s now a focus on preventing sedentary postures rather than demonizing sitting specifically. Sustained postures are clinically reported by patients to be the thing that aggravates their pain the most.10 Aside from pain, sedentary behavior in general has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of obesity, hypertension, type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, venous thromboembolism (blood clots), cardiovascular diseases, cancer and also increased all-cause mortality.4,7,10-12 Sit-stand desks and computer prompting, or just a simple alarm, have been shown to decrease sitting significantly.9,34 Although switching between sitting and standing has been shown to be beneficial, prolonged and uninterrupted standing (2 hours) may be associated with health issues including venous insufficiency, atherosclerotic progression, back and lower limb discomfort, and decreased cognition.4
Changing positions every 20-30 minutes has been shown to have positive effects on musculoskeletal and metabolic issues.2,8,10 An active break, ideally with postural change, for 2-5 minutes every hour or switching from sitting to standing every 30 minutes have both been shown to be beneficial for musculoskeletal (pain), blood glucose, blood pressure, and cardiovascular risk issues.3,5-9,11,13,33
Consider taking 1-2 minutes to perform one or more of the following exercises every 20-30 minutes while working at your computer, or sitting in general.
Active Low Back Extension: Perform 5-10 slow repetitions, holding for 1-2 seconds. Do not push through pain. Sitting is largely a trunk flexion position for many people and this exercise does the opposite, thus lengthening tissues that are in a shortened position for prolonged periods.
Cat Cow: Perform 5-10 slow repetitions, holding for 1-2 seconds, and taking slow easy breaths. Breath in through the nose on the way to the cat position (back arched towards the ceiling) and out through pursed lips on the way to the cow position (belly hanging towards the floor). Do not push through pain. This is a great exercise for spine mobility while limiting compression on the spine.
Standing Posture with Chin Tucks: This is a great exercise for postural awareness with the wall providing tactile feedback. Phase 1 is to simply stand with your back against the wall and ideally the back of your head, in between your shoulder blades, and top of your tailbone being in contact with the wall. If you can place more than one hand behind your low back, tuck your tailbone under (posterior pelvic tilt) to slightly decrease the curve in your low back. Imagine there is string pulling from the top of your head towards the ceiling to lengthen your spine. Perform 5-10 slow easy breaths. Be aware of your posture as you step away from the wall. Avoid excessive strain and stiffness throughout the body. Phase 2 is adding the chin tucks as shown in the video. Perform 5-10 repetitions, holding for 1 -2 seconds. Phase 3 is the wall angels described next.
Wall Angels: This exercise tends to be much harder than it looks. It helps with posture by strengthening the muscles (in the back and shoulders) that improve posture and stretching the muscles (in the chest and front of shoulders) that tend to pull you into a rounded back posture. When you place your forearms and elbows on the wall, you will most likely need to tuck your tailbone (posterior pelvic tilt) to decrease the curve in your low back. You should only be able to place about 1 hand behind your low back. Take slow easy breaths and perform 5-10 slow repetitions. Do not push through pain.
Child’s Pose: Perform 1-2 repetitions holding for at least 30 seconds and taking slow easy breaths. This is an excellent stretch for your low back, hips, knees, ankles, and shoulders. Do not push through pain. If you have pain in the shoulders, slide your arms back so your elbows are resting on the floor.
Neck Flexion/Extension: Perform 5-10 slow repetitions. Do not push through pain. Many people go through less and less of these end ranges, especially with jobs requiring looking at a computer screen for prolonged periods, which leads to a lack of mobility when you need it. If you don’t lose it, you lose it.
Neck Rotation: Perform 5-10 slow repetitions. Do not push through pain. This exercise goes with the one above and limitations typically show up with activities like checking your blind spot while driving. If your limited with these motions, there’s a lot you can do to gradually regain your mobility.
In addition, check out my general strength and flexibility program here. Regular strength training has been shown to increase strength, increase bone mass density (lower the risk of osteoporosis), improve sleep, decrease depression, decrease all-cause mortality, reduce cognitive decline, decrease the risk of falls, decrease systolic blood pressure, and decrease musculoskeletal pain.14-19 It’s recommended that adults strength train major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) 2-5 days per week for 30-60 minutes.14
A good goal to shoot for is 150-300 minutes (30-60 minutes 5 days per week) of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic exercise per week for adults.14
People who exercise aerobically for this amount of time have been shown to have a decreased risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and increased weight maintenance and executive functioning, all of which have been shown to be adversely affected when people are more sedentary.14,20
Psychosocial Aspects, Stress Reduction, and Breathing
Pain and injury recovery are rarely limited to physical aspects alone. This is obvious to most folks who have had to deal with a prolonged injury or illness. Its depressing, frustrating, affects relationships, and can magnify preexisting issues with work, friends, and family life. Chronic pain, including low back pain, has been shown in numerous studies to have a strong psychosocial component.13,21-31,34 Some specific examples related to the workplace are monotonous work, perceived high workload, pressure of time, lack of decision-making authority, and job dissatisfaction.25,34 And given the current state of our global pandemic, mitigating stress is of huge benefit to keeping our immune systems in top shape.32
There are many ways to address excessive stress. Simple breathing exercises can be found here (mine) and here (from Jan Goldberg). Check out the “chronic pain” section of my article here for many other options, including the “4 pillars” of chronic pain intervention (aerobic exercise, education, goal setting, sleep). Seeking individualized help, from someone we trust and jive with, for stressful situations prevents us all from having to reinvent the wheel.
Check out Beyond Tape: The Guide to Climbing Injury Prevention and Treatment for more information about warming up, stretching, and other climbing (and non-climbing) injury related topics. Like my Facebook page and follow me on Instagram for updates and more information and rate/review Beyond Tape on my website or here. My primary motivations for Beyond Tape and any of the posts are to: 1. Check out the most relevant and up-to-date research for each topic in order to dispel myths, sift out conflicting views, and help people to prevent or heal from injuries – letting me know about new research or opposing views is helpful and greatly appreciated 2. Contribute to the local and global communities by donating 100% of my net profits from Beyond Tape to service-based non-profit organizations, such as Rotary International, Doctor’s Without Borders, Access Fund, etc.
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