Is your writing career turning into a pain in the neck? Do you experience occasional numbness and tingling in your hands? Does it feel like it’s impossible to sit up straight for any length of time at the computer? Headaches? Muscle spasms? Wrist and forearm pain? Cramps? Tendinitis? These are all symptoms of the postural imbalances that are created when we spend too much time sitting at the computer. If it feels as if gravity is winning and you are slowly shrinking into a ball of knots, consider that this post is for you.
PJ Sharon here, and after twenty years as a Physical Therapist Assistant in the field of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, and eight years as a Massage Therapist and personal trainer, I have a unique perspective on how to address these issues. I’ve come to see our current sedentary lifestyle as the “De-Evolution of man.” Humor me when I suggest that for the past 50,000 years or so, we have walked upright for good reason. We could not have created the world we know today if this evolutionary change had not occurred. So why, in the past hundred years have we become a society of people who can’t run fast enough to save our lives, let alone catch our dinner? How have we devolved so quickly that heart disease, Diabetes, and Cancer are killing us at epidemic rates while most of us have access to the most advanced medical technologies known to mankind? So glad you asked!
I’ll leave the huge problems with our diet, pollutants, chemical toxicity, and over-dependence on sugar for another day. Today, I’ll focus on one simple fact that is at the root of many of our health issues–especially our orthopedic complaints. One fact that we can control. Our bodies are not designed for prolonged sitting—although our widening hips and increased padding may suggest otherwise. I’m sure none of us wants that to be our evolutionary norm. We may not be able to fight “progress” in the world of technology or the societal decline of a physically active lifestyle, but we can change how much WE sit. The rise in health problems coming about because of the “computer-age lifestyle” should be evidence enough that things need to change. READ this NY Times article if you think I’m exaggerating.
But change isn’t so easy, is it?
I’m a big one for focusing on what we CAN do rather than what we CAN’T. So here are a few things that may help.
1) Check your set-up (feet flat on floor, support behind your lower back, knees lower than your hips, screen directly in front of you, and mouse in close enough to keep your elbow in close to your body. Avoid reaching and make sure you have a wrist support.
2) Stop every hour and get up, walk around, stretch and drink water.
3) Try a “stand-up desk” or a “treadmill desk.” Check out the above article for suggestions.
4) More on stretching—
a) Hold stretches and breathe deeply four or five times. Stretching should not be painful. If it hurts, stop and get proper instruction from a physical therapist or personal trainer.
b) Tip ear toward shoulder and extend opposite arm out to side to stretch the deep neck stabilizers. When these muscles are chronically tight, it weakens the neck and can also contribute to nerve impingement and carpal tunnel symptoms.
c) Stretch your forearms by extending your arm straight out in front and gently pulling your fingers down toward the floor and then up toward the sky. There are a few variations of this to stretch deeper into the forearm muscles.
Yoga postures are great for wrist flexibility and strength.
d) Stretch your legs. Basic calf, quad, hamstring, hip flexor, and piriformis stretches can make a remarkable impact on spinal tensions that affect the neck and back. It is worth working with a certified trainer to learn proper stretching technique.
e) Get a massage on a regular basis. Once a month is recommended for maintenance. At the very least, every three months is acceptable. You probably change the oil in your car and pay your taxes that often. How much more important is it to take care of yourself?
Today’s unlocked secret: The bottom line is that we need to get off our bottoms!
A final thought—if you really are the boss, would you treat an employee the way you treat yourself, or would you insist they take care of themselves properly and encourage them to avoid overuse issues that would ultimately cost you in decreased productivity?
Okay, writers…what are you willing to change to correct this De-Evolutionary disaster waiting to happen?