Professional Opinion: Just how bad is bad posture when you're sitting all day?

newsroom@islandpacket.comJuly 14, 2014 

Robert Drayton is a physical therapist with the outpatient physical therapy department at Hilton Head Hospital.

SUBMITTED PHOTO

This week, Robert Dayton, a physical therapist with the outpatient physical therapy department at Hilton Head Hospital, discusses the ill effects of slumping all day in your office chair.

Question. Almost no one I work with, myself included, has good posture when sitting at their computer. We all round our shoulders or slouch some, even though we have ergonomic office chairs. Just how bad is bad posture? What can we do to fix posture, especially if we sit most of the day?

Answer. The effects of inefficient posture can be detrimental to our health. Bad posture can affect us in many ways. Primarily it puts adverse stresses on muscles, joints and ligaments.

An inefficient posture can cause pain and fatigue. Sitting up tall with an excessive curve of the lumbar spine (lordosis) is not only difficult to maintain, but it's not healthy. A hyper lordosis puts the pelvis in an excessive anterior tilt and does not allow for a good base of support for the lumbar spine. It causes increased shearing forces, particularly at L5-S1 and L4-L5, and increased compressive forces on the posterior aspect of the vertebral bodies, discs and facet joints. When these structures are compressed, they lose circulation as do the muscles. This leads to pain and fatigue.

On the other hand, a slouched posture is most common and could be considered the worst of the two. Try sitting in this position and raise your arms up -- feel the effort and compare it to sitting up in a more neutral position (neither flexed nor extended). Now try the same experiment while turning your head, looking up and down and trying to take a deep breath. In the slumped posture, all of these activities are impaired.

A slumped posture compresses the abdominal contents and blocks the diaphragm from its full excursion (abdominal contents are in the way). The ribs don't elevate and the heart has to work harder to pump blood out of its chambers because of increased pressure.

These aberrant postures over a prolonged period of time can cause structural changes, due to shortening of tissues (muscle, ligament, and connective tissues). They can also cause fatigue, headaches, backaches and circulatory dysfunctions. In addition to these physiological changes poor posture can contribute to negative psychological changes and how others perceive you.

Good posture is dynamic; it changes with movement and the type of activity you are doing. An efficient postural alignment allows for the most optimal function on a neuromuscular and motor control level.

To correct poor posture you must set up your work space according to sound ergonomic principles. These principles are well documented, abundantly detailed, and can be found for free on the Internet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines ergonomics as the study of people at work. The goal of ergonomics is to reduce stress and eliminate injuries and disorders associated with overuse of muscles, bad posture and repeated tasks. This is accomplished by designing tasks, work spaces, controls, displays tools, lighting and equipment to fit the employee's physical capabilities and limitations.

Some simple things to fix bad posture are easy and intuitive. Simple stretches in a chair are easy and not too distracting. Be sure not cause pain -- it's not a tug of war. Pain may be an indicator that something is brewing, and you might want to consult with your health care professional.

Remember to change position frequently -- this helps with circulation to those structures you are sitting on.

Follow reporter Rachel Damgen at twitter.com/IPBG_Rachel.

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