If you are one of the 86% of Americans who sits at a desk for 40+ hours per week, you can be categorized as a “desk jockey” (which is really anyone who works a full-time desk job). Add in your commute, the amount of time you sit at home watching TV, reading, or eating, and we find that Americans sit more than 13 hours every day on average. Some have even gone so far as to call this phenomenon the “sitting disease” that is slowly killing us, because chronic prolonged sitting may be the worst thing you can do to your spine and your overall health.
“Desk jockey posture” is best described as slumped over with rounded shoulders, rotated hands, hips rolled forward and the low back leaning forward in a stretched position. This kind of poor posture sets us up for pain in shoulders, elbows, neck, upper and lower back, hips and knees and cause dreaded headaches.
Remain in any posture long enough and it can become the norm for your body. This is because our bodies are dynamic and they will mold themselves into the positions we put them in the longest. All of our muscles, joints, fascia, and other soft tissues will contract into that posture, and by doing it consistently your body will eventually cement itself in that position. Some muscles like the quads, hip flexors, and hamstrings will tighten over time, while others like our abs and glutes will simply weaken. Any negative adaptation of the body such as this is felt like a trauma by the body – the same as a punch in the gut or an automobile accident, only carried out over a much slower period of time.
We were made to move
The human body was not designed to be idle. In addition to poor posture wreaking havoc on our spine and joints (both in the short and long-term), lack of movement in general slows metabolism, reducing the amount of food that is converted to energy and thus promotes fat accumulation, obesity, and a myriad of illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and more that come with being overweight.
Movement helps maintain good muscle tone, range of motion, blood and lymphatic flow, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and also improves your mood. There are certain muscles that should be stretched in order to combat the effects of “desk jockey posture” (see below for recommendations) and many studies support the fact that simple movements can have dramatic health effects. What is more, these results do not require regular visits to the gym or high intensity exercise regimes that are all too often abandoned.
Simple solutions for sitting
For starters, experts recommend standing up at work for at least two to four hours a day. There are lots of ways to accomplish this such as standing desks, walking to colleagues’ offices instead of calling, conducting walking or standing meetings or simply getting up and walking or stretching every 30 minutes.
A few companies are even encouraging this behavior at an organizational level: one company in St. Paul Minnesota encourages walk-and-talk meetings by taping walking tracks to its carpets. A firm in Iowa discourages workers from sending emails to colleagues who in close proximity by creating “email-free work zones” and providing options for computer networks to block email exchanges to nearby work stations.
Other personal changes that can have a big impact on your posture and the adverse effects of “desk jockey” syndrome include things like:
1. Changing the position of your monitor(s)
Make sure that the top of your computer screen is level with your eyes and at an arm’s length away directly in front of you.
2. Rearranging your keyboard and mouse
These items should be placed so your arm is at a perfect 90 degree angle when you use them. Use a wrist pad behind your keyboard for additional support.
3. Getting a new chair, adding support or intermittently using a stability ball
Old chairs will sag and lose their firmness over time leaving your back rounded and setting you up for pain. Chairs should have good cushion, but they should also be supportive. A quality lumbar support pillow can help with this if replacing a unsupportive chair isn’t an option. Desk jockey posture can also be counteracted by keeping a stability ball at your desk and rotating it with your normal chair.
4. Add a few counter-strain exercises throughout your day (suggestions below)
Instead of only walking around every 30 minutes, add in some of the simple stretches like the ones suggested below to loosen up stiff joints and keep muscles from weakening.
5. Get regular chiropractic adjustments
Regular adjustments will ensure that your neck and spine are in proper alignment, especially if you are unable to integrate these recommendations into your routine or your work space. Also, regular adjustments will help combat any stress that comes from your work unrelated to your posture.
- Counter Keyboard Strain Series is great for the elbows, wrists, and hands, helping to counteract the stress associated with long periods of sitting at a computer or using a keyboard
(The rest of the moves in this series can be found on our YouTube channel here).
- Hip Flexor Stretch – this is a excellent stretch for the lower back and hips, specifically the hip flexor which tends to tighten up more quickly when sitting for long periods of time
- Brugger’s Position Stretch – this is a great stretch to hit all parts of the upper body from the neck, shoulders, upper back and chest all the way down through the elbows and hands
- Microbreak – this super efficient “ladder stretch” loosens up several body parts in one simple move. It gets the blood flowing again in the lower and middle back, shoulders, chest and neck, relieving tension in these places after long periods of sitting
Whatever you choose to do, choose to move. Regular bodily movement is one of the single best things you can do for your health. If you’re out of practice, need some more guidelines or want to discuss your sitting situation, feel free to reach out to us. Dr. Loomis will be happy to schedule a consultation to review your overall health and work with you to develop a plan for optimal wellness.