Welcome to Ask Our PT, a column of questions and answers. Arthritis? Personal training? Joint replacement? Returning to exercise after an injury? If you have a question, one of RVNA’s physical therapists will have the answer. Send your question to AskOurPT@ridgefieldvna.org and we’ll get back to you with answers and advice.
December 2018: Standing vs. Sitting
Q: Will using a standing desk — or an adjustable desk — be good for my back? It’s feeling rather tight lately and I tend to sit and work steadily for hours at a time.
A: Without a doubt, introducing more standing and mobility into your day will remove pressures that may ail your back — and offer other health benefits as well. But, as Gigi Weiss, MSPT, CDP, CKTP, Director of Rehabilitation Services at RVNA cautions, “It’s all about moderation and it’s all about posture. So don’t go crazy and start standing for 8 hours a day or you’ll develop new issues!”
Weiss favors an adjustable desk — one that allows you to alternate standing and sitting throughout the day and offers optimal ergonomics in either position.
Following are tips for ideal ergonomics excerpted from our friends at the Mayo Clinic:
Posture: When using a standing workstation, keep your head, neck, torso and legs approximately in line and vertical. Use a footrest to shift your weight from foot to foot. Wear shoes that provide proper support.
Desk: Choose a desk deep enough to allow your monitor to fit directly in front of you and at least 20 inches (51 centimeters) away. The desk should allow you to keep your wrists straight and your hands at or slightly below the level of your elbows. A desk with a rounded front will prevent pressure on your wrists. Don’t use books or boards to change the height of your desk.
Monitor: Place the monitor directly in front of you, about an arm’s length away. The top of the screen should be at or slightly below eye level. If you wear bifocals, lower the monitor an additional 1 to 2 inches (3 to 5 cm) for more comfortable viewing. Place your monitor so that the brightest light source is to the side.
If you have dual monitors, the location of the monitors depends on the percentage of time you spend on each monitor and the type of work being done. If you use both monitors equally, place them close together on an angle in front of you with their edges touching. If you use one monitor more than 80 percent of the time, place that monitor directly in front of you and the other monitor off to the side.
Keyboard and mouse: Place your mouse and keyboard on the same surface and at a distance that allows you to keep your elbows close to your body. While typing or using your mouse, keep your wrists straight, your upper arms close to your body, and your hands at or slightly below the level of your elbows. Use keyboard shortcuts to reduce extended mouse use. If possible, adjust the sensitivity of the mouse so that you can use a light touch to operate it. Alternate the hand you use to operate the mouse by moving the mouse to the other side of your keyboard.
Key objects: Keep key objects — such as your telephone, stapler or printed materials — close to your body to prevent excessive stretching.
Telephone: If you frequently talk on the phone and type or write at the same time, place your phone on speaker or use a headset rather than cradling the phone between your head and neck.
I’ve heard you can develop “text neck” from too much cell phone use. Should I really be worried?
Whatever you want to call it, neck pain from poor posture is a genuine problem. But it’s not just your phone that’s to blame. Poor posture – whether related to cell phone use, working at desk all day, or any other repetitive activity – can cause a host of neck and back issues. And, because children today have been exposed to technological devices from a far younger age than adults, they’re likely to experience problem much earlier than their parents did.
Why is posture such an important component in neck and back health? The head is meant to be held over the shoulders in a neutral position. When we look down for long periods of time, the weight of our heads puts extra stress on the cervical spine. Think of slouching and hanging your head as positions of weakness. The more you do it, the weaker your muscles become. Conversely, proper posture is a position of strength. It takes effort to maintain, but the more you do it, the stronger you get and the easier it is.
The key to developing and maintaining your posture is to strengthen the muscles of your upper back – the trapezius, rhomboid, and cervical extensor muscles – and to stretch the opposing muscles of the chest (the pectorals) to get yourself out of a forward-leaning position. Simple chin tucks are also a good way to get your head in the right position.
It’s not necessary to do an all-out strength training session at a gym to achieve results. While working out is always beneficial, there are some simple and effective exercises that can be done almost anywhere for just a few minutes at a time. When working at a desk or doing repetitive activities, try to get up and move around once every hour or so. Perform the stretches below and “reset” your shoulders before going back to what you were doing.
- Shoulder Blade Squeezes
Forward head posture usually includes a protracted and rounded shoulder position. This means that the shoulder blades move away from your spine promoting a slumped position. Squeeze the shoulder blades together which will un-hunch your posture. Hold for five breaths, then release. Repeat several times often through the day.
- Chest/Doorway Stretch
When we sit at a computer, we tend to round the upper back and allow the shoulders to roll forward. To counter this tendency, stretch the pectoral (chest) muscles. Stand in a door way with your arms up at a 90 degree angle. With your legs staggered, shift the weight forward until you feel a stretch in the chest. Hold position for five-ten breaths.
- Chin Tucks
Our heads tend to shift forward when we work on computers. To reverse the strain this places on the upper neck, gently retract or move the head backward. To perform a cervical retraction exercise, move the entire head backwards while keeping your chin parallel to the earth. Hold for five seconds. Repeat 10 times.
Simple postural awareness – being mindful of how you’re positioning your body throughout the day – combined with following these tips can go a long way toward alleviating that nagging pain in your neck. Before you know it, you’ll be sitting pretty.
RVNA provides in-home physical therapy and rehabilitation, as well as outpatient services at Rehab by RVNA, 27 Governor Street, Ridgefield. Services offered both in-home and at RVNA include orthopedic and joint replacement physical therapy, neurological physical therapy and vestibular rehabilitation, occupational and speech therapy. Additional on-site services include personal training, massage therapy, and reiki. Click here for more information or call 203-438-5555.