It’s reported that 3 out of 4 people have back pain in their lives and 85% of those are undiagoned, meaning there is no specific medical reason why.
Do you ever feel like you’re chained to the office desk?
Considering how much of your day is spent at work, you’re probably right for thinking so! Plus it’s reported 4 out 5 British workers eat their lunch at the desk so we really are chaining ourselves to the desk!
The office environment presents all sorts of physical stresses on the body. Monitors too low for your eye-line, chairs too high or too low, phones stuck between the ear and shoulder, RSI and shoulder strain from repetitive typing without correct support, wrong lighting causing eye strain…. shall we go on?!
But one of the biggest problems we face is sitting down all day, and lets face it, most of us leave work and go home to sit all evening on the sofa! This long period of inactivity causes the spine to:
Slouch and gradually compress against gravity
Adds strain to the lower back
Forces the mid back to overly round and tighten the chest and weaken the back support muscles
Pushes the head further further, adding to neck strain, headaches and increasing load added onto the spine.
Shortens and tightens hip flexors
Weakens the important abdominal core muscles
Reduces space for the vital organs
So what’s the solution?
Ok, maybe not! But thankfully it is possible to make a few changes that will reduce the time and how you sit at your desk and improve your back pain.
Swop your chair for a stability ball. Posture is greatly increased by working your core stabilising and back muscles as you sit on a ball, as well as been shown to lead to better circulation, upper body mobility and less beck and joint pain.
Get a raised desk and do away with the chair at all! LinkedIn staff did this and saw a 50% reduction in back pain from not sitting down!
Ensure typing is done with wrist support resting on the desk. Awkward positions when typing can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.
Get a hands free set for your desk phone. No more holding the phone between your ear and shoulder which causes neck and shoulder pain. Plus hands free means you can stand up and walk around more so less time sitting down.
Get a grip! We’re losing our grip power as most things we do is by finger touch. Building up grip strength by making and tightening a fist (without tightening your shoulder and neck) will exercise the forearm and the small muscles in the hands, reduce the effects of typing RSI and carpal tunnel syndrome and give you great toned triceps too!
Wiggle at your desk. if sitting still is the enemy, then have a little wiggle. Circle your ankles, flex and point the toes for improved circulation- do the same in the wrists. Stretch your neck by tipping your ear to your shoulder, circle your shoulders, lift your chest up to the sky and lengthen your spine, circle your pelvis like a clock to move the lower back.
Counter balance the effects of desk working by doing some Pilates regularly. Move well every day with some forward bending, side bending, twisting and back bending/extension will go a long way to helping to reduce the effects of sitting down all day.
Make the tea! Getting the teas/coffees in for your team will not only get you out of the chair and moving your spine but it’ll also make you more popular too! We suggest you use the handy colour chart to get the right strength of your colleagues favourite brew… mine’s a Builders Brew!
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My last blog was about putting up with back pain and why that’s not a good idea. On a much more positive note lets have a look at why Pilates is so great for managing back pain. It goes without saying that any pain should be diagnosed by a medical professional reducing the chances of aggravating rather than relieving your discomfort.
Did your mother ever tell you to stand up straight? She was onto something here. She probably also told you to eat your vegetables too but now we might pay a nutritionist to advise us on superfoods!
Poor, slumped and collapsed postures standing and especially sitting place a tremendous amount of strain on our tissues. If muscles are held in a shortened position for a prolonged period other muscles will have to work overtime in order to support the weight of the surrounding structures. The body’s energy efficient response to this is to lay down extra collagen into the overworked muscle to make it more like a ligament, allowing it to support the same weight without expending much energy through prolonged muscular contraction. So rather than having well balanced muscles around a joint we have shortened and weakened muscles on one side versus overly long muscles that have lost their ability to contract as muscles fibres are replaced by collagen.
Hence we end up with a poor balance of muscular control around many joints. The resulting lack of stability around our sensitive joints can result in poorly controlled movements with painful muscular spasms as the body quickly tries to gain control.
Pilates teaches you to lengthen your body in every possible direction. Even some of the starting positions for many exercises are hard work! This continual striving to find more space in your body is decompressing the joints and distributing the load of either movement or static held positions. In the Pilates mat exercises its just you and gravity. On the equipment the springs act as gravity for you to push and lengthen out against. A reformer is literally trying to squash and compress you giving you some feedback to lengthen out against. Thats why the equipment has the funky looking straps and handles so your limbs can experience this as well as your spine. Once you get back on the mat again after using the equipment your body knows what to do, as you reach a leg away for Single Leg Stretch you keep reaching into a now imaginary strap.
Pilates brings your smaller supporting muscles to the party. Too often these small stabilisers get edged out of our movement patterns by the bigger movement producing muscles. Ever had to drive a car without power steering when you are used to having it? Thats what your body is doing when the stabilising muscles are neglected. It takes so much more effort to move the damn thing around! Advanced Pilates practitioners make the harder exercises look easy and flowing. They are still working hard but no part of the body is working harder than it has to.
Quality of movement is really important in Pilates. Once you start to find and use your stabilising muscles movement becomes much smoother and more controlled. Many of our stabilising muscles fine tune out movements but are also rich in nerve endings that send information back to our central nervous system. Our movements are then better calibrated, and of course smoother movement is far less likely to cause pain. Not having this feedback is like trying to negotiate the world with fogged up glasses.
One of the greatest gifts Pilates gives people with back pain is the ability to take back some control of their situation. Back pain is frightening and frustrating in equal measures with many chronic long term sufferers becoming depressed when it limits their previous level of activity. It’s a real privilege to work with this population as they learn how movement is going to help rather than hinder them.