Ergonomic Articles

Sitting is the new smoking, this is why!

By Pippa Bowden | Added 2015-06-24

Sitting is fast becoming the number one cause of body strain. With more and more hours spent in the office working, without proper workstation setup, more and more of us are plagued with upper and lower back, elbow, wrist, neck, shoulder and even knee pain. Discomfort and injury is on the rise. Here is a breakdown of all the problem areas and how they are affected by your desk job!

The Upper Back


Also known as the thoracic spine region has two main resulting injuries to be concerned about, including the thoracic spine stiffness, kyphosis and Thoracic outlet syndrome.


Spine kyphosis and stiffness is caused by a prolonged curved spine posture which results in an unnatural rounding curve of the spine. Not only can this result in stiff, sore muscles but can result in a restriction of movement and make straightening out, uncomfortable.


Behind your clavicle, which is your collarbone - in the space that is above your rib - is the area known as the thoracic outlet.  Surrounded by muscles and housing the brachial plexus nerves that come from the neck to the outlet, this area is sensitive to injury. This thoracic outlet syndrome causes arm weakness, pain and numbness or pins and needles in the arms which can mean a bad working posture that causes pressure on the cervical rib.


The lower back


The lower back or lumbar spine region of the back is a big problem area. Injuries hamstring stiffness, tight muscles and disc issues can all be attributed to bad posture in this area of the back. Here is a breakdown of how each area is affected and the injuries caused:


You may not realise it, but tight hamstrings can cause a lot of lower back pain. This is because when you sit for extended periods of time, they shorten unnaturally. This shortening causes your pelvis to pull and tilt and makes you slouch. A slouching posture and long periods of sitting are a big cause of lower back pain.


Lower back muscle spasms and pain comes from having weaker core muscles and the back muscles having to pick up the slack. This is a particular problem when you work seated in the office all day. Forcing the back to stabilize itself without core support puts a lot of strain on muscles and spasms can then occur.


When you are seated for many hours a day it puts tremendous pressure on your lower back and pushes heavily on your discs. A slouching posture, only exacerbates the compression and causes disc injury and pain in the back and legs.


The Elbows:


This may seem like an unlikely area, but lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow, can result due to bad mouse placement and a lot of typing. This is because the elbow tendons can be strained and inflamed if the wrists are not in the correct position and can cause considerable pain.

The Hands and Wrists

When you repeat one action over and over, it can result in repetitive straining. The wrists and hands are particularly susceptible to this injury, known as tendinitis or tenosynovitis, due to bad wrist placement during repetitive activities such as typing. This can often cause aches, and in some causes numbness, in the wrists, hands, and fingers.


The Neck


There are two areas of concern when we look at the neck. The Facet (or neck) joint and the skull. These are a result of slouching that causes you to unnaturally stick out your chin and therefore puts pressure on the joint. Resulting in joint pain, headaches (from the skull to the top of the head and around the eye) and referred shoulder pain.


The Shoulders


There are three major injuries that can be felt and experienced in the shoulders: Rotator cuff syndrome, muscle spasms and front shoulder pain.


When you work on your computer, your shoulders are forced into a rotated forward position and puts pressure on your shoulder tendons, also known as the rotator cuffs. Sitting like this for prolonged periods can cause those tendons to become inflamed and cause a lot of pain, especially at night when lying down and therefore affects sleep.


There are two areas of the shoulders that experience muscle spasms: the upper shoulder and rhomboid (shoulder blade) muscles. The trapezius and levator scapulae muscles are fibres of the upper shoulders and are strained when you sit hunched over. If your desk is too low or your keyboard to high, uncomfortable and painful shoulder knots (or trigger points) can form. The shoulder blade muscles, known as rhomboids, run from the blades to the spine and are a prime spot for knots when prolonged slouching occurs.


Another injury caused by improper hunched over posture, is the strain of the AC joints. These sit at the top of the shoulder and are often one of the most affected shoulder muscles and cause a lot of pain to the touch.


The Knees


There are two painful problems that affect your knees when you sit for prolonged time: knee joint pathology and the weakening of VMOs (week knee stabilising muscles). These knee muscles, or VMOs, are strained and weakened from sedentary lifestyle and hours sitting.


Now you can see how important it is to know good ergonomic practices and ensure good back health and choosing the right office furniture is key. Making sure your back is supported with a comfortable chair as well as doing daily stretches to counteract the shortening of muscles will help prevent and treat these painful injuries.


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