Advice From an Athletic Therapist on Pain and Postural Problems
by Nicole Swain
Posture is the way your body is positioned when you're standing, sitting, or lying down. Correct posture puts the least amount of strain on your muscles and joints. Slouching, slumping, and other types of poor posture can cause muscle tension, as well as back pain, neck pain, joint pain, and reduced circulation. Maintaining proper posture isn't the only important factor in reducing pain, it's also important to make sure you're not in the same position for too long.
SITTING AT A DESK AND WORKING AT A COMPUTER CAN MAKE MAINTAINING GOOD POSTURE VERY DIFFICULT.
We interviewed athletic therapist Jason Tsang to gather some tips and exercises on maintaining good posture throughout your work day.
Jason graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Kinesiology-Athletic Therapy. He is a certified athletic therapist through the Canadian Athletic Therapists Association and has been working as an athletic therapist/strength coach for 6 years. Jason is the owner of JT Performance Therapy, as well as a service provider for elite level athletes who are part of the Canadian Sport Center Manitoba. Jason has worked with a variety of clients from elite athletes to working professionals.
Do you treat a lot of patients with neck, back, or shoulder pain relating to poor posture?
It is a common occurrence for me to see patients with neck/back/shoulder pain due to bad posture. We will naturally develop habits based on our life. You'll notice that your body will naturally rest in a posture that it finds most comfortable, which is greatly affected by your lifestyle. Whatever you spend the most time doing will have the greatest effect on your posture. This is because the body is always trying to find the path of least resistance to help you with your daily activities. For example, if you are always looking down at your computer screen for work, I will see that your head and neck will have a tendency to rest more forward, towards your chest.
I think that it is extremely important to consider the postural positions you are in on a daily basis. Poor posture can lead to many problems. For example, forward head posture puts strain on the muscles on your neck, which can lead to neck pain and headaches.
It is very important to consider how your body is responding to what you put it through, whether you have a desk job or a more active occupation.
By considering the postures and tasks you do the most often, you can create a plan that helps reduce the amount of stress you put on your body and reduce your risk for injury/pain. I do not think there is one "optimal" posture you should maintain the entire day. Our bodies are made to move and you will find that even if you hold "optimal" posture for the entire day, you will still feel stiff and sore.
Do you have any tips for someone that works at a desk all day?
1. GET AN ADDITIONAL KEY BOARD IF YOU ARE WORKING OFF A LAPTOP.
This will allow you to have the screen and keyboard set at optimal heights for your hands and eyes, which are different. Set your screen at a height where you don't need to look down at it. That way you can avoid having your head and neck tilted forward and reduce muscle stress and headaches. Set your keyboard at a height where your wrists and elbow heights are the same, or where your wrists are slightly lower than your elbows. This will help reduce risk for shoulder and wrist pain.
2. TAKE SOME BREAKS
Get up and move at least once an hour. You can stretch or do a lap around your office/home. This movement break helps to loosen you muscles and joints up. It will also give your eyes a break from the screen. I know this can be difficult in a busy work day, but even a minute long break can help. In the present moment, the most important task may be meeting a deadline, but think about your future self. Bad posture is not the easiest habit to reverse, so start thinking about this now. You can also consider investing in a good pair of wireless headphones with a speaker for phones calls or meetings. This way you can get up and walk around without being stuck at your desk for too long.
3. INVEST IN AN ADJUSTABLE STAND UP DESK
It may be a little pricier, but it will be worth it if you work at a desk all day. You can adjust throughout the day to be standing or sitting when you want. It will help you not be stuck in one position for too long and allow you to move your body to reduce muscle and joint stiffness. Stand up desks are becoming more and more popular.
4. TRY THESE EXERCISES
Do you feel stiff? Try these "Side Lying Rainbows" to open things up:
The Cat-Camel exercise is one of my go to movements for back pain. It is a great exercise for training movement throughout your entire spine. Check it out:
MIRACLES OR MYTHS??
Take it from the expert. There are many products on the market and suggestions that claim to help "cure" your posture problems, here's what he has to say about them.
Sitting on an exercise ball: I do not see much benefit to this, as sitting for an extended period of time in any posture is not great. I would recommend spending your money on a comfortable chair instead.
Posture correctors and braces: Not recommended. A good exercise program will teach your body how to feel where it needs to be and will be better in the long run. Posture correctors can also restrict your range of motion, which is not ideal.
STILL EXPERIENCING PAIN, DESPITE SOME OF THESE TIPS AND EXERCISE? JASON DESCRIBES HOW HE WOULD TREAT SOMEONE EXPERIENCING THESE ISSUES.
Athletic therapy is extremely beneficial for people who are experiencing neck/back/shoulder pain. I will always do a thorough assessment to begin the session. This includes a number of questions about their pain, movement analysis and special tests to diagnose the root of where the pain is coming from. Once I determine where the problem is, I will use a variety of manual therapy techniques and RAPID Neurofascial Reset to help soft tissues to relax and reduce pain. These will be targeted to which muscles and joints that I have determined to be needing treatment in my assessment. For those who prefer, I do offer manual therapy only as a treatment option.
This is a great option for those with busy lives, or are already quite active and looking for a tune up. Though I do recommend both manual therapy and exercise in combination for best results.
I utilize manual therapy to help the client feel better and set them up for success in the exercise rehab portion of the session. The program will be designed specifically to their needs, no cookie cutter programs. Exercises will be prescribed to help restore any range of motion restrictions they may have, to increase strength of the muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints. This will also work to improve overall body awareness and coordination.
Having full range of motion is important as it allows for proper movement patterns so you are not having to compensate for any restrictions. The strength training is important to help increase the load capacity of the muscles and joints to help reduce risk of future injury. Improving body awareness and coordination will help the client be more aware of how they are sitting/standing and how they are going through life. This is especially important for older clients for fall prevention and maintaining independence.
Last but not least, I make sure to educate the patient so they can leave confident in their ability to manage on their own when they aren't being treated.