A Look into Common Postural Problems with Sedentary Jobs

Pay attention to how you sit or stand at work to stay pain free

Hanna Kim - February 5, 2019

Over 80% of us experience back pain at some point in our lives. Between work and play, many Americans spend a large portion of their days indoors, which reinforces a sedentary lifestyle. The National Human Activity Pattern Survey found in recent decades, the average American spends 87% of their time indoors and an additional 6% in an enclosed vehicle (on average).

We may not notice how we aggravate these postural issues when we spend most of our time sitting in one position, and many of us don’t take enough time each day to rebalance with stretches and strengthening exercises. Our bodies want to work as efficiently as possible, and when we are sedentary for long periods of time, our muscles relax to exert less energy, giving way to gravity

Over time, these issues can become more exaggerated, causing chronic pain, and when we go long enough without corrective measures, we can experience permanent, long-lasting issues.

An easy test to identify the issues in your own body is to have a coworker or friend record you as you walk in a straight line. Walk up and down a line several times to prevent yourself from self-correcting during the diagnostic so you can see what your normal gait is. Watch the recording and see if you notice any of these postural issues.

Postural Problem: Forward Head Tilt

Forward head tilt is sometimes referred to as “text neck” or “tech neck” because this movement pattern is encouraged by staring down at device screens for prolonged periods of times. Forward head tilt is an imbalance between the front and back side of our neck and shoulders and is commonly experienced as pain and tension along the neck, where the upper trapezius attaches.
The further our heads jut out away from our shoulders, the worse the forward head posture is. Notice when you get absorbed in an elaborate spreadsheet or lengthy email, your head creeps in forward and down into the screen. When our heads are properly aligned, our ears should be directly over our shoulders. If you notice forward head tilt in your walking assessment, make a deliberate effort to slide your head back above your shoulders day to day.

Postural Problem: Rounded Shoulders

Take a closer look at your hands in your walking assessment - do you more often see your thumbs facing the camera or the knuckles of your hands? If you see your knuckles, your shoulders are rounding in.

Rounded shoulders are a postural issue that presents when tight, overdeveloped pectoral muscles continually pull your shoulders into internal rotation. This movement pattern is reinforced by poor posture while holding your arms out to type.

To fix this postural problem, sit up straight with shoulders over hips to reduce the imbalanced pull as you work. Use a foam roller or tennis ball to massage your pecs before stretching your chest.

Postural Problem: Hunchback

Hunchback can be most easily identified from a side view. Notice the curvature of your thoracic spine, which starts at the base of your neck. If you notice your spine forming a “C” shape, you may have a hunchback, which can form over time in tandem with rounded shoulders due to frequently sitting with bad posture.

Your upper spine rounds forward as your chest muscles contract and comparatively weaker upper back muscles, including your rotator cuff and mid-traps overstretch to compensate for the forwards pull.

Postural Problem: Forward Hip Tilt

Low back pain is often a symptom of forward hip tilt. When we’re sitting at work for long periods of time each day, our muscles tend to sink further into a relaxed position. Our core muscles disengage, leading to an overarching of the low back and overstretching of our abdominals. Long periods of sitting also affects the lower half of our bodies - the hip flexors on the front side of our hips are in a constant state of flexion, which prevents our glutes and hamstrings from properly activating.

Get up to stretch and mobilize your spinal muscles and hip flexors throughout the day. Consistent exercise to strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, and abdominals helps keep your body balanced.

These common postural issues exemplify how different muscle groups are interconnected and show how the body is designed to work together. The combination of staying desk-bound for extended periods of time at work and not getting enough movement and exercise aggravates symptoms of pain, tension, and stiffness. Stay tuned for a follow up on practicing better posture through regular movement like desk-chair yoga at work.

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