Every single day, I turn and shift in my chair at work, wincing at the minor aches—in my hands, wrists, forearms, shoulders, neck, lower back, and hips—that plague my middle-aged body. I usually save my whining for people who care, but this morning I ran across a news article that gave me a perfect platform for crying out loud: "Your computer may be a pain in the neck."
According to this article, people who slump in front of the computer with hunched shoulders and a craned neck could develop postural syndrome, which is "repetitive stress to the neck and thoracic spine, or the 12 vertebrae of the mid-back and chest area, from the so-called flex-forward position. Doctors and physical therapists say that the injury commonly targets the fourth, fifth, and sixth discs in the thoracic spine [aka the 'T4 syndrome'], leading to muscle tenderness, stiffness or, in some cases, nerve irritation. A prolonged slouch over many years causes the disc space to narrow, which in turn can cause nerve irritation that spreads underneath the shoulder blades, down the arms and down the back."
Physical therapist Caroline Palmer says, "We call it the flex-forward posture, where your head's jetting forward, the abdominals shut down and the majority of the pressure comes to the mid-back. Your spine is going to have to give somehow."
Physical therapist Doreen Frank "has practiced for 25 years and over the last five years she has seen more people with postural problems than with carpal tunnel. Even her patients who are in good shape and exercise regularly suffer when they sit in a prolonged state of incorrect alignment. Parents, especially, might slouch at work, then drive home with their neck forward, then sit and watch their kids play soccer—again with the neck forward."
If you're stuck in front of your computer all day, here's an eye opener for you... "The human body was not meant for sitting or working in one position all day, and prolonged work at the computer can eventually cause the body to short-circuit... physical therapists say the answer to the problem lies in education and injury prevention. People need to remember the tenets of good posture from their school days, and take regular breaks every 20 minutes, if possible, from sustained sitting at the computer."
The article closes by suggesting break-reminder software, such as RSIGuard, or sites like My Daily Yoga to combat bad posture strain. I stopped by My Daily Yoga to briefly check it out, and the tag line immediately jumped out at me: "Simple exercises anyone can do... Do them at your desk to help you feel better." Sure, I'd like to say that I'm going to go there, do the exercises, and start feeling less aches and pains at my workstation. *sigh* All I have to do is pivot my chair around and look at the three sheets of computer and desk stretch exercises that are pinned to the wall of my cubicle to know that's not the case. Is there such a thing as posture perfect? How do you keep the postural syndrome at bay?
Photo © Positive Health Publications Ltd
Sonja Thompson started at TechRepublic in October 1999. She is a former Senior Editor at TechRepublic.