You may have heard poor posture being blamed for all kinds of neck, back, spinal or shoulder pain. And it kind of checks out, right? Sitting at a desk all day with your back rounded and head forwards must cause pain – that can’t be good for your joints!
To help combat this, you may have had an office assessment or seen a number of different resources and posters that look a little something like this:
But does your posture or office set up actually have anything to do with developing pain and office related injury? Does it really matter what positions we sit and stand in day to day? It’s time to assess about how we think about posture, and its relevance to pain and injury in the office.
What We Know About Posture
For hundreds of years, ‘good’ posture has been associated with better health and better performance. It makes us look stronger, more attentive, and more powerful as we partake in our every day tasks.
But what does ‘good’ posture look like? There are many opinions about what’s important what it comes to posture, but we still have no consensus on what the ‘perfect’ posture is, or what a ‘good’ posture actually achieves.
Not only is there no consensus among professionals about what good posture is, but workplace set ups and ergonomic optimisation geared towards ‘improving’ posture have been shown to be ineffective at stopping workplace related pain and injury (Daltroy et al., 1997, Hoe et al., 2018, O’Connor et al., 2012).
So to answer the question, I’m not 100% sure if there is such thing as ‘good’ posture!
Where Does That Leave Us?
As the name of this blog suggests, I am not here to discuss how you should sit, or how to change your office set up to best reduce your chance of injury and soreness (as we learned above, I think there is good reason to believe that this plays a very small, if any, role in developing pain and injury). Instead, I am going to offer you three quick and practical tips to reduce your desk related pain and stiffness:
1) Move More, Move Often
Get up from your desk regularly and change your position as often as you can. Whether this be for a quick lap of the office, a stroll to the water cooler to fill up your water bottle (which, if you do regularly enough, will mean you’ll need to visit the toilet a little more (leading to even more short trips away from the desk)), a change from your sitting to your standing desk (and back) or joining your colleagues on the lunch time walk.
There’s no need to set a timer for every 20 minutes or to bog yourself down with your movement breaks, after all, you’re busy, and you have a job to do! Start by just keeping it in the back of your mind to get up and do something else for a few moments whenever you get a minute.
So why move more? Pain and discomfort have a primarily protective role. So if you haven’t moved for a while and you’re starting to get uncomfortable, then maybe your body is just telling you to move. When we stay still for a long time, blood flow is reduced meaning that there is less oxygenated blood coming in and a build up of carbon dioxide starts to occur. Specialised sensors in your body (chemoreceptors) detect this imbalance and send a signal off to your brain. Your brain takes this information onboard, weighs it up against other information, and can respond by causing you to feel discomfort so that you shift around and move which allows fresh blood flow to reach affected tissues and everything is happy again!
Exercise has been proven to have strong protective effects against pain in the workplace. The reasons for this are many!
Moving through a full range of motion, keeping fit and allowing your body to be strong enough to handle holding itself through long days at the desk can help to reduce pain, stiffness and injury. Exercising regularly helps you to be confident in the resilience of your body, manages mental health, boosts immunity and gives you a big hit of endorphins which we know are actually very potent pain killers. Exercise as a painkiller can be supercharged further if it’s something you enjoy, with people you like or if it’s something that allows you to de-stress. All of these factors can be part of someone’s personal pain cocktail.
3) Back Yourself
Finally, it’s time to shift our thinking far away from the body being fragile and machine-like towards being strong and robust. Move with confidence, and move regularly! Your body is made for this, so give it what it needs. You will adapt, become stronger, and pain is capable of diminishing and going away over time. Keep adding in those “movement snacks” throughout the day and even introduce some strength training if you enjoy it!
Where to Seek Help
The above tips offer some insight in to some things you can do in order to prevent stiffness and soreness in the workplace. But finding where to start can be a little confusing, especially if you’ve never done formal exercise or strength training.
If you’re not sure where to start, or if you would like to know more, get in contact with us to see what our team of Exercise Physiologists can do for unwinding your body and getting your daily dose of movement in. You might even find a new passion along the way!