Sitting for long periods of time is now considered as hazardous as smoking by health care professionals. With that in mind, we take advice from respected Chiropractor, Jørgen O Pedersen, on the best way to sit at your computer when you’re BICHOK with a screaming deadline while author, Virginia Heath, explains why many of these sedentary problems can be eliminated with the acquisition of a dog...
Jørgen O Pedersen - Homo Sedens
Over the last few decades many people have become more sedentary in their jobs and we should probably call them Homo Sedens, a term first described in a book by AC Mandal, a leading Danish surgeon and author of ‘The Seated Man’.
Over the many years’ I have been in practice, dealing with patients, I am often asked how to improve one’s posture, particularly if sitting at a desk or using a laptop. So, in the following I will try to describe how to improve but also how to detect if the posture needs correcting.
Having and maintaining a good posture is a major step in preventing back and neck pain. Writers, who sit for long periods in front of a computer or with the laptop on a chair, coffee table or even on their lap, can be prone to developing problems in the upper back and neck.
“To understand the problems which arise in the seated position (as normally adopted by writers), it is necessary to study the anatomical changes that take place when a person changes from a standing to a seated position. The teaching of anatomy has never focused on more than 'normal anatomical posture', which corresponds closely to a soldier’s position when at 'attention'. But the reality is most people have no interest in maintaining this position for any length of time. In fact, we can no longer regard ourselves as an erect species. Homo Sapiens have become Homo Sedens.
The seated working position of 1,035 school children was carefully examined. In a normal, relaxed sitting position, he found not one of them could maintain the lumbar curve. If the children were told to sit up straight – i.e. with conscious muscular tension – he found only 30.5% of them could maintain a lumbar curve by contracting muscles. Children are particularly well suited to illustrating the problems of the sitting posture, since their backs are more flexible than adults. Even by the age of 30/40, the flexibility of the back is reduced considerably and the marked lumbar curvature apparent in children is no longer visible – not even with the help of the farsightedness brought on by middle age.” (From HOMO SEDENS - The seated man and back complaints by BQ Ergonomics)
You should always take time to adjust your chair, particularly if you share your computer with other people. Your seat should be adjusted so your feet are flat on the ground, your knees bent, but with a slope from your hips to your knees. You should end up with your hips higher than your knee and your eyes level with the top of the computer screen. Getting into this seated position will allow your lumbar curve to return closer to its normal situation. This seated posture will also bring the upper body closer to the work surface of the desk and your eyes will be more in line with any notes you may have on the desk. Overall a simple measure to improve posture and help prevent spinal muscle tiredness or pain. (British Chiropractic Association: Mind Your Posture)
The height of the keyboard is also important in to help prevent problems in the wrist, forearms and shoulders. I find you may need to put the screen on a stand or even on a ream of paper to bring it to the right height. Modern furniture in schools, factories and offices is constructed in such a way that no one can use it properly. Each day people sit for many hours hunched over their tables, in postures extremely harmful to the back. No-one should be surprised more than half (maybe closer to 80%) of the population today complains of backache.
AC Mandal observed young children naturally sit with the chair tilted forwards onto the front legs. They then support their elbows on the table, which for a small child is the right height, and the protective lumbar lordosis is effortlessly and correctly maintained.
As a child, I was always told not to tilt on the chair, but as Mandal observed posture improves as the chair tilts forward so to try to illustrate this point look at photos below.
Seated on chair without any forward tilt (left). The spine is curved and neck flexed to look at desk. This puts strain on the neck and shoulder muscles and can even lead to lower back pain. It is important the eyes are perpendicular to the book/pages of text you may be looking at and we tend to do this without thinking about it, hence the flexed posture in this picture.
Here we are correctly seated with the seat tilted forward and the laptop resting on a slope. This
improves the posture greatly. Note the spine is not as flexed, the seat and the slope compensating for some of the flexion. Notice also that the legs are sloping downwards a little, so the hips are slightly higher than the knees. Here the eyes are better positioned, too, and overall the body is less flexed and the spine is in a more natural position. Ideally the desk should be higher so the laptop is at the same height as the elbows.
Of course, should you suffer any back, neck, shoulder, arm, or wrist pain due to unavoidably long periods of time spent in a seated position, treatment by a registered Chiropractic Practitioner can make a huge difference. Here at the clinic, we have patients who consider it as important as a regular eye test or teeth check-up/visit to the Doctor or even the service you would put a car through in preparation for a road-worthiness test. Any pain or discomfort can have an effect your concentration, something I’m reliably informed is important for writers!
Jørgen O Pedersen DC MRCC, has been a Chiropractor for more than 30 years and if you live in the Counties of Fermanagh, Tyrone, Cavan, Monaghan, Leitrim and Donegal and the surrounding areas in Ireland, we at the PHS, can highly recommend a visit to him! To find out more, you can visit his website or find him on Facebook. Thanks for visiting us, Jørgen!
Virginia Heath - Eat less. Move more. Get a dog.
I suppose I am an odd choice of spokesperson to talk about health. I’ve never been to a gym, have a penchant for carbs and white wine and have been a bit of a chunky monkey since the day I was born, but up until very recently I have been blessed with good health. Obviously, carrying too much weight is really bad and I’m not condoning that, but I firmly believe it is possible to be well-upholstered and as fit as a fiddle, so long as you are active. We can’t all be Jane-Fonda thin and I'm a classic example of that.
At my slimmest, I’ve still been what is considered plus-sized, and believe me, I ate nothing but salad for six months to maintain it. Something which was hard, depressing and unsustainable. I’m not making excuses for being chubby. Forty-nine years of experience, different diets and the karma which comes when you finally feel comfortable in your skin- all those things have told me if I do nothing different and eat my normal diet, my body happily remains at around 13 ½ stone/195 pounds which I personally think suits me. Genetics plays a part, so does metabolism, but the key to maintaining your health and weight is your activity levels.
Something I have learned from bitter experience.
You see, up until 2015, I was ridiculously active. For a decade, I commuted into London. All those commuters out there know that commuting can keep you fit. First you have to walk to the station. Then you have to rush for trains and buses, climb stairs and schlep the distance between the place your trains stops and your office every day. Twice a day. My media job also kept me busy, and I spent my whole day dashing here and there.
When I took a career break to raise my children, my kids wore me out. Mums can’t sit still, so your muscles get a regular work out with all the lifting, cleaning and chasing them around you have to do on a day-to-day basis. After that, I spent a decade as a teacher. My classroom was on the 3rd floor of an old building. I was up and down those stairs perhaps ten times a day and you cannot teach sitting down. You need to be on your feet for 6 hours straight, pacing your classroom and interacting with your students. I once took part in a science experiment where they attached me to a pedometer. I was staggered when I learned that in an average teaching week I walked over 12 miles!
I was chunky, active and fit.
But then it all changed in 2015, and bizarrely because I was finally living my dream. The moment I got my first publishing contract, I quit my day job and became a full-time author. I love to write and am apparently (according to my frazzled editor) ridiculously prolific. For 18 months I sat for 8 hours a day at my computer, happily bashing away at the keys and living in my own head. Sometimes so engrossed I barely had time to grab a sandwich. I wasn’t eating any differently- if anything I was eating less- but as the stories churned out, the weight piled on and I noticed my joints were stiffer, especially in my knees.
It bothered me, but not enough to do something about it because, hey- I was finally living my dream. Aside from the bigger clothes I had to buy, everything in my garden was rosy. And then it wasn’t. My sedentary 18 months came back to bite me on the bum. One day I was carrying the vacuum cleaner up the stairs and bang! Something twanged in my leg and I dropped like a sack of potatoes tossed from a truck.
I’d ruptured the tendon in the back of my knee, an injury which left me on crutches and which I was told could take up to 6 months to recover from. Initially, I made good progress, but then a few weeks after I developed tendonitis in my good leg. Now both of my legs were sore, swollen and at times I could barely stand, let alone walk. It was a wake up call and one caused entirely by sitting down.
In a recent study for the Mayo Clinic, Dr James Levine issued a dire warning about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”
For a hefty woman hurtling towards 50, I knew I had to do something to get myself back to the way I was. The extra pounds aside, I needed to get active again. I could have gone to the swimming pool or joined a gym, but I indulged myself with another dream I’d always wanted. I got a dog. Not just any dog. I got a Trevor.
In the 10 months since that cute, yellow bundle of fun came into my house, my lifestyle has been completely transformed. As a puppy, he couldn’t walk far. That suited me just fine, because neither could I. Thanks to the tendonitis, I could limp about 200 yards. As he grew, our walks got longer and more frequent.
You see Trevor has some particular needs. He’s very house-proud and his pride in his surroundings extends to the garden. My mutt won’t pee anywhere close to what he regards as his territory. That means that at least four times a day, he comes to my desk, nudges me with his wet, black nose and tells me with his eyes that he needs to take care of business. I clip on his lead, and off we go.
Trevor also likes to explore, so every walk takes us in a different direction because he needs to sniff new lampposts and run in new grass. He also has bags of energy; energy that has to be expelled or it builds up into destructive chaos. That means we have to ramble in country parks- something I have never done before- so Trevor can chase butterflies and swim in the lake to talk to all his duck friends. We walk up and down hills, around the grounds of castles or simply around the streets where I live, and I have to confess, I rather enjoy it.
Those walks have helped to fix my tendons. There’s still a way to go, because they stiffen or twang occasionally, but I can easily walk the 2 miles a day I regularly walk with Trevor and some. What is more surprising is I have finally found a form of exercise I really enjoy. If somebody else takes my hound out, I miss it. Those four wanders a day have become an important part of my routine. They are right up there with my daily cuppa and scroll through the day’s news.
I’m active again and feel fitter, and I like that. I eat healthier and now that summer is coming, I intend to feast on BBQs with lots of salad to aid the process a bit. The weight isn’t falling off and I’m not dieting, but my jeans are falling down and I’ve had to buy a belt. I figure if I just do what I’m doing, then those pounds will gradually melt away and one day in the not-to-distant future, I shall be a cuddly 195 pounds again. My ideal weight. I have an attic full of lovely clothes just waiting to be worn again.
But there have been other benefits. The fresh air and the sunshine make me happy, and I can ponder and plot while I pound the pavement with my dog. A good walk blows the cobwebs out of my mind and makes the writing easier afterwards. So not only has Trevor forced me to become active again, he’s made me a better storyteller. A plus-sized storyteller with a new zest for life.
Virginia's latest release is A Warriner to Protect Her. For more information about her and her writing, check out her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Are you sitting in the correct position at your computer/laptop? Have you found Chiropractic treatment an invaluable part of your health care? Do you have a Trevor in your life? If you do, we'd love to see a pic! Join us in the comments or on the PHS Social Media.