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With more people working from home and constant Zoom meetings, many of our clients are having more aches/pains from prolonged sitting. At Rebalance Physical Therapy, we coach our clients on proper workplace and school ergonomics for sitting and standing at desks. Below, we are sharing some of the adverse effects of prolonged sitting and also tips for setting up a healthy ergonomic workstation.

Potential Negative Side Effects from Prolonged Sitting:

  • Sleepy Core Muscles – Standing, walking, and sitting upright engage the core muscles. Prolonged slouched sitting causes sleepy/weak core muscles, which can contribute to low back pain and poor posture.
  • Glute Amnesia – Prolonged sitting decreases blood flow to your glute muscles, which are BIG and POWERFUL muscles in the body. Lack of blood flow to this area causes these muscles to be weak and ineffective. The muscles can even develop painful trigger points due to disuse and lack of blood flow.
  • Tight Hips – The muscles at the front of the hip (also known as your hip flexors, e.g. psoas, iliacus, tensor fascia latae, and rectus femoris) become shortened due to prolonged sitting. Additionally, the psoas muscle attaches to the spine so when this muscle becomes short/tight from sitting, it places more stress on the low back. Tight hip flexors can contribute to low back pain, hip pain, issues with walking normally, and the disruption of the nervous system.
  • Neck/shoulder pain – Prolonged sitting and computer use can cause the head to drift forward to look at the screen. When the head comes forward of the shoulders, it now has more mass and requires the body/neck muscles work harder to hold it in place. The shoulders also tend to drift forward with prolonged sitting, which causes tightness and trigger points in the neck and shoulder muscles, especially the upper trapezius and levator scapulae. Pain in the head and neck accompanied by headaches are very common for people who frequently sit for prolonged periods of time.
  • Low Back Pain – Tightness and weakness as described above can contribute to low back pain. When we move around and walk, the discs between the vertebrae of the spine expand and contract, providing blood flow and nutrients to the area. However, prolonged sitting causes uneven compressive forces though the discs, which can contribute to low back pain and nerve irritation.
  • Wrist/Elbow Pain – Holding the mouse or typing at the keyboard can cause repetitive stress to the wrist and elbow. This stress can lead hand numbness or elbow pain.

Tips to Help with Workstation Set-Up

The image above provides a general understanding of the ideal sitting and standing desk set-up. Here are some other tips to help keep you healthy at your workstation:

  • Change positions – Have both a sitting and standing station available. Switch between the two throughout the day.
  • Take a Walk – Take a quick 2 minute walk each hour. Walk to get a snack, use the restroom, or walk to the printer. Moving around will help to improve blood flow through the system which promotes nutrients to get to muscles.
  • Laptop Stand – Get a laptop stand to improve the height of the screen to be eye level. If you do this, you will also need to get a detached keyboard and mouse to keep good mechanics for your elbow/wrists.
  • Mouse/keyboard Gel Guard – Get a wrist protector for your keyboard and mouse to promote neutral positions for your wrists.
  • Stool – Get a small stool for under your desk. Whether you are sitting or standing, you can change your positions through the day to prop one foot up on the stool. Changing positions throughout the day is key!
  • Cushion – If you are standing a good amount during the day, get a gel-like thin cushion to stand on. This will decrease some of the compressive forces through the feet, knees, hips, and back.
  • Arm rests – Use them to let your elbows rest. Adjust them so that your shoulders do not shrug up by your ears.
  • Low Back Support – Get a cushion or roll up a small towel to place at your low back while you work in sitting. This support will help to keep your spine in a neutral position.
  • Do Some Stretches – Lookout for next month’s blog post with some stretches to do at your desk!

Written by Andrea Barberio, PT, DPT

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