We may start our work day with the best intentions, ergonomic keyboards, lumbar support, optimism even. But that sinking feeling is almost inevitable, and Smart Phones are adding more stress to our spine than ever. If you have a stiff or sore neck, burning between your shoulder blades, carpal tunnel syndrome, rotator cuff issues, headaches, frozen shoulder, lower back pain, sciatic pain, the list goes on, you may be experiencing Computer Syndrome.
These symptoms are often caused by a sedentary lifestyle and the problem of excessive computer and smart phone use where we sit for long periods with our spine flexed and head forward. Sitting for long periods increases the pressure on your lower back, restricts the circulation to the muscles and can result in back spasms and disc compression. Over time we find that the muscles that we use to support us upright have weakened. We’ll often compensate for these muscular weaknesses by locking the knee joints and using our thighs to brace us when we stand while the buttocks and lower back muscles go almost unused. The result? Stiffness, poor movement patterns and PAIN.
Even when not sitting using a computer we are hooked into our Smart Phone – adding extra stress to the back muscles.
Heads are heavy!
It’s worth noting that a head forward posture rounds your upper back and places enormous stresses on the Cervical and Lumbar areas of your spine. Why? Because heads are heavy and our spinal curves have developed to hold our head beautifully balanced and upright with the least amount of strain on our back muscles.
When we sit at a computer, in front of a TV screen, in a car, or use a Smart Phone for too long with our head forward and back slumped the result is a shortening of the connective tissue along the front of your body. You will also experience your upper back and neck muscles becoming strained due to supporting the weight of your head in a dysfunctional way. As they stiffen up and become “locked long” it becomes much more difficult to “straighten up”. And the effect doesn’t stop there, you will probably will throw your pelvis forward as a counter balance and cause a flattening of the lumbar curve resulting in disc compression and lower back injuries.
We know our skeletal structure, alignment and posture contribute to overall health and our ability to avoid injury. Good skeletal alignment and posture will place a lot less strain on your spine when you engage in sports and daily activities like lifting little ones, or carrying shopping. On the other hand poor posture decreases your joint flexibility and causes discomfort when you move. Your poor postural habits are most likely a big contributor to your back pain and other issues and can lead to increased risk of injury.
Your posture is really important. I may have just lost you there! Too much effort right?
It pays think about your body in a new way, as being more like a Tensegrity Structure than a stack of muscles, bones and ligaments. When you see your body in this new way you can see that your tissue becomes moulded around your activities. Check out your Posture – what do others see? What can you learn from your posture about the muscle chains you use to hold you upright? It’s worth standing in front of a full length mirror side on. An honest appraisal is needed. Don’t suck in and pull up! What’s your habitual posture? If your body looks like a bow strung so tightly along the front that your chest looks compressed, and your head projects forward then you will be experiencing rounded shoulders AND a flattening effect in your Lumbar Curve. A sure-fire recipe for Neck and Lower Back Pain.
Three things you can do to improve your posture
1. It definitely pays to be more aware of your habitual posture when using technology, and give yourself regular breaks from the desk.
2. Open your chest muscles
Chest muscles can become short and tight due to things like weight training, lifestyle and a general lack of stretching. Sitting at a desk, poor posture, a shoulder injury, can all lead to tight chest muscles.
To open your chest just fold a firm single blanket so it is half as wide as your upper back.
- Lay on your back on the folded blanket with your whole back from the back of your head to your buttocks supported. Notice if there is any discomfort in your low back or tension in your throat, if there is place another slightly thinner blanket under your buttocks.
- Reach your arms out beside you in line with your shoulders. Open the chest and allow the palms to face up to the ceiling.
- Hold for 2-5 minutes, focus on your breathing and just feel yourself letting go tension.
Easy! You can do this daily any time you need to release neck tension and it won’t hurt the back, neck, or shoulders + your body will thank you for it!
3. Stretch your Hip Flexors & Strengthen your Posterior Chain
Warrior Pose is a great all in one yoga posture that lengthens your hip flexors (they get tight when we sit) and strengthens your upper and lower back muscles.
Here’s how you do it….
- Stand with feet about 6 inches apart and step your left leg behind you.
- Palms come together above the head, elbows slightly bent and forward of your head and keep your back heel lifted.
- Push through the front heel and draw the head of the leg into your hip. This helps align your pelvis, so it’s not twisting.
- Gently lift the hip bones at the front of the body upward and drawing up through the pelvic floor muscles, feel the pelvis come into a neutral position.
- Relax the upper spine forward a little and relax the shoulders as you put equal pressure down through the feet.
- With the weight equal through both feet come up through the spine allowing it to lengthen through to the crown.
- Draw the shoulder blades in and down the back, freeing the neck and allowing the spine to lengthen from the base to the crown as the chest expands and the hands move back. (Watch the lower back doesn’t bend excessively backwards but rather create a long curve as the internal muscles supporting the spine lengthen.)
- Finally, slowly lower your back heel to the ground feeling a stretch into the calf.
And then repeat on the other side.
If you are suffering pain, I recommend finding a Myofascial Therapist to aid in unlocking your tight areas. A commitment to daily stretching and strengthening to support your spine and improve your posture is invaluable in keeping your body pain-free.
Always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.Should you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult a certified yoga instructor or your healthcare provider.