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Ergonomics: Posture and Joint Health

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Don’t move… as you sit reading this article, stop for a second and take note of your posture and positioning. Are you slumped in a soft sofa or are you sitting bolt upright at a table? Are you leaning on your elbow or crumpled forwards?
We all take for granted that our body will survive the day-to-day strains we place upon it; most of the time the body is very resilient and copes admirably. Continual abuse however, caused by poor posture and recurrent strain, can lead to a downward spiral of chronic injury and pain.
Mark Adshead, Managing Director of Physio2go St Albans addresses some of the issues of posture and ergonomics in his series on joint health and rehabilitation. Mark provides important advice on how you can prevent many of these injuries by taking some control of your immediate environment while at work, driving or relaxing at home.

Ergonomics

Ergonomics is the rapidly expanding science that seeks to understand and improve on how we interact with products, equipment and our immediate environment. The goal of ergonomics in the workplace is to ensure your comfort and safety while making you less prone to work-related injury. By applying this knowledge, performance is enhanced and your well being is protected in work and leisure activities.

Are You A ‘C’ or an ‘S’?

Your spine, or vertebral column, should be allowed to lengthen into it’s neutral balanced ‘S’ shape with the pelvis tipped slightly forwards and no sign of the chin protruding forwards. This is the most ergonomically correct position as it spreads the load evenly through the intervertebral discs and balances the work being done by the supporting muscles.
In the sitting position you may find that you are curled up with a ‘C’ shape. The curled up ‘C’ shape will prevent you from being able to expand your chest and lungs effectively leading to you feeling fatigued and sluggish. It’s not surprising that the first thing we do after getting out of a car after a long journey is to stretch upwards and take a deep breath as it is the body’s natural way of reinvigorating us after a long period of relative inactivity (especially if you have just spent 3 hours moving 15 miles along the M25!).
The ‘C’ shape is frequently a contributing factor to lower back problems. This poor posture causes an imbalance between the muscles supporting the lower abdomen at the front, which will be slack, and those supporting the lower back, which will be overstretched.

Here Are A Few Tips:

At Home

Choose a chair that fits! An easy check is to sit with your back against the back of the chair. You should be able to bend your knees without restriction whilst feeling that you have plenty of support under your thighs. It’s no good if your legs can’t bend and you have them stuck out in front of you because you will be C-shaped within a few minutes. Conversely, if the chair is too small you may find your knees heading up towards your ears and……..you are back in that C shape again! Make sure there is some support in your lumbar region (where a belt would go around your waist!) to push you more towards the gentle S shape.

Driving

Many people make the mistake of trying to sit bolt upright, once again forgetting the natural gentle S curve of the spine. Most car seats have a bucket shape with a downward slope from front to back. If you experience back pain when driving, try ‘opening up’ the pelvic and hip area by tipping the backrest further back rather than completely upright.

The Office or Home Office

It is difficult for many of us to avoid sitting in front of a display screen for varying lengths of time. Many of my patients requiring treatment for neck and back pain can trace these often chronic injuries back to their posture and usage characteristics of their workstations.
There are many aspects to look out for when setting up a computer workstation. All too often I see clients who have made a large financial outlay in terms of ‘ergonomically’ engineered/designed chairs, screens, desk, mice, etc. without having any professional input as to the correct set-up and use.

Consider The Following

Make sure you are sitting directly in front of the screen and keyboard. Avoid having anything placed to the side which would make you sit on a constant twist. The screen should be at eye level (all too often we find it is too low) however it can easily be raised up on a few old telephone directories until you are able to acquire a specific screen raiser.
The keyboard should be within easy reach so that in your starting position your fingers are over the middle row of keys and your wrist should be in a flat neutral position (not angulated up or down). You should be able to get your knees under the desk to get close enough to the set up. Have your mouse to the side of the keyboard so that your elbow is comfortably by your side and bent to a right angle when using the mouse.
Avoid having to reach forwards at all to use your mouse, as the elbow will straighten causing an excessive stretch to the nerves in the arm leading to pins and needles in the hand.
Make sure you clear your desk of unused rubbish which interferes with easy usage of the set up and if you are right handed put your phone on the left so that when you answer it your right hand will be free to take notes rather than wedging the phone under your chin. If you are constantly taking calls consider using a headset.
Finally, you should be sat comfortably in your correctly sized chair with your feet on a footstool if they are unable to touch the ground comfortably.
If you should encounter difficulties or require professional help then contact your Doctor or Physiotherapist. For personal advice at home or at work, contact Physio2go for a personalised consultation.

For further information please contact:
Physio2go Ltd.
York Lodge,
St. Peters St,
St. Albans,
AL 1 3HD
Telephone: 01727 850925

Email: info@physio2go.co.uk