Pure Physio Blog

Physio Conference Message…Postural Pain Is Real

Published on
20 May 2015

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If you feel that you would like to improve your ability to maintain a better posture at work and reduce the probability of pain and injury now and in the future, get to work on making some changes!

As we age, our joints become stiffer and it becomes harder to make changes to our posture and habits, however It’s never too late to address these issues- the sooner the better!

By spending more time in an optimal posture, we are reinforcing correct movement patterns and muscle memory in this posture. Likewise, if we continually revert back to our slouch posture we are further reinforcing poor habits.  Changing your posture is absolutely achievable with the right attitude and guidance!

When working in an office based profession, the hours we spend sitting each day/week/month clock up and as good as out intentions may be, many of us admit that we end up slouching by the end of the day. This can be due to a number of factors that we will discuss below, however the longer we spend sitting with poor posture, the more of a vicious cycle this can become as we reinforce poor movements patterns and become more stiff and stuck!

 Why do I slouch?

Most people report that it feels more comfortable when they slouch and that it feels awkward, painful and hard work when trying to maintain correct posture throughout the day.   There are a number of reasons for this:

1) Lack of endurance and strength in our postural muscles that help stabilize our back, neck and shoulders.

2) Stiffness through our back, neck, shoulders and resistance/discomfort in these structures when trying to move out of our slouch position.

3) Poor Workstation Setup

4) Poor awareness of our posture and how to achieve correct posture.

 What happens to my body when I slouch?

Neck:  When we slouch or strain our neck to look at a computer screen for prolonged periods, our chin and neck will tend to poke and flex forwards. This jams up the joints in the neck region and can result in pain, stiffness and headaches. In addition, the muscles around the front of the neck become tight and short which can also cause pain and headaches.

Neck/Shoulder Junction:  The junction between our neck and shoulders will be forced to flex forwards resulting in stiffness in the joints and sometimes even a ‘hump’ at this junction. This stiffness and hump often increases over time becoming more prominent and painful.

 Thoracic Spine (Mid-Back):  Our Thoracic spine should normally follow a nice gentle curve, however with prolonged slouching this curve accentuates and the joints in our back become stiffer and more stuck in this posture. This can result in pain and restriction in our neck, upper, mid and lower back.

 Shoulder Complex:  When we slouch, our shoulder complex usually slides forwards on our chest wall. This causes a mechanical change in the way our  shoulders function, and can lead to pain and irritation in the structures within the shoulder joint such as the rotator cuff and bursa. With prolonged positioning, this can progress to tethering and tearing of the rotator cuff tendons. In addition, this places the important postural stabilizing muscles that connect onto the shoulder blade at a mechanical disadvantage as they become long, weakened and harder to activate.   Poor shoulder position can also predispose us to injury at the gym or when exercising for example playing tennis or swimming due to narrowing of the space within the shoulder joint and irritating and further damage to the structures within the shoulder.

 Chest:  When the shoulder complex sits forwards on the chest wall, the front muscles of our chest and neck become tight and short making it hard to open up the front of it chest.

 What can I do about my posture?

Take Breaks:  Just like when we go for a run or workout at the gym, our postural muscles become fatigued and tired as time wears on. Take regular breaks when you are sitting at your desk every 30-60 minutes to move, give your postural muscles a break and reset your posture.  Sometimes setting an alarm on your desktop calendar can be a helpful reminder to take breaks.

 Ergonomic Setup:  Hopefully your desk and computer have been ergonomically setup to suit your body type. If you have access to an ergonomic assessment team arrange an assessment or review as a lot of us spend 30%+ of our working week sitting so it is essential that we get it right and providing our bodies with the best support that we can.   There are many resources online if you don’t have access to an ergonomic assessment, and the team at Pure Physio would happily guide you and/or carry out an ergonomic assessment of your workstation and posture.

 Stretching and Foam Rolling:  Poor posture at work typically results in muscular tight muscles and joints as discussed above. Stretching and using a foam roller to address these tight and stiff structures on a regular basis can make a world of difference to your pain and stiffness. Try to work a ‘maintenance’ program into your exercise routine 2-3 times a week to address these factors. In addition, maintaining mobility of these structures will significantly reduced the likelihood of developing pain and injury in the future.

 Strengthening:  Selective strengthening of the postural muscles around your shoulder blades, neck and back can make a huge difference in your ability to maintain a correct sitting posture at work. Postural muscles are endurance muscles designed to activate at a low level for prolonged periods. Postural retraining is an important component to address when we complain of neck, shoulder and back pain as it allows us to maintain correct posture and positioning of the joints over the course of the day to prevent the end of day slouch.

 Summary:

If you feel that you would like to improve your ability to maintain a better posture at work and reduce the probability of pain and injury now and in the future, get to work on making some changes! As we age, our joints become stiffer and it becomes harder to make changes to our posture and habits, however It’s never too late to address these issues- the sooner the better!

By spending more time in an optimal posture, we are reinforcing correct movement patterns and muscle memory in this posture. Likewise, if we continually revert back to our slouch posture we are further reinforcing poor habits.  Changing your posture is absolutely achievable with the right attitude and guidance!


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