For most of us, screen time and sitting go hand in hand and both are only increasing as our lives move more online. While short periods in any posture aren't harmful, a lack of movement combined with long periods spent in hunched positions can lead to spinal pain, headaches, shoulder pain and more. If you're needing to spend more time in front of a screen, here are a few tips that can help you to keep flexible and avoid pain.
Set movement breaks
Posture in itself isn't always a problem. Spending long periods of time in these postures without taking breaks is the problem. When your body is so used to one position, muscles may become shorter and joints stiffer, making it harder to move out of this posture without pain and discomfort.
You can break up your day by setting a timer to move and take a break every 20-30 minutes. Using these short breaks for movement is a great way to both help focus at work and keep your body more flexible.
Setup your work and home environment properly
Adjusting your work station or setting up a place to relax at home where to you can avoid a hunched posture can help you to reduce time in the same posture. Your physiotherapist can give you tips for how to setup your home and office environment correctly.
Take stock of your time spent sitting
Time in the car, time on your computer and time on the couch can all quickly add up without you realising. By accounting for the amount of time you spend sitting, you can find more ways to move. For example, if you notice that you're sitting down as soon as you get home, try swapping out watching an episode on TV to going for a walk while listening to a podcast.
Ask your physio for specific stretches
If you can identify the posture you spend the most time in, your physio can help you to develop a specific exercise and stretching program to counteract these positions most directly and keep you strong and flexible.
We know that office life can wreak havoc on our body. Even with the best intentions, finding time to reverse the pressures of 8 hours a day sitting in a chair can be difficult. Here are three easy stretches to do daily that focus on common problem areas for office workers.
Chest & shoulders stretch (wall angels):
Find a large flat wall and stand facing away from it. You may need to bend your knees slightly or step a few inches forward. Your pelvis, upper back and back of your head should all be in contact with the wall, with small gaps where the curves of your spine are. If you are unable to keep your head to the wall, you may need to use a towel behind your head to make this position comfortable.
Tuck your chin in gently, keep your palms facing forward, elbows bent to ninety degrees with the backs of your arms against the wall. Now slide your arms up along the wall, as high as you can while keeping them in contact with the wall, pause for a few seconds and slide them down again. Repeat 5 to 10 times.
This will stretch your chest and shoulder muscles which get tight from slouching at a desk, as well as help you to develop a sense of head position alignment with your body.
Hip flexor stretch (lunge):
Kneel on one knee, place your other foot on the floor in front of you and keep your knee bent to 90 degrees. Keeping your hips even, shift your pelvis forward but keep your shoulders back until you feel a stretch at the front of your hip of the kneeling leg. Hold for 30 to 45 seconds and then swap legs. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
This will stretch your hip flexor muscles which are often tight from sitting for long periods.
Seated hamstring stretch:
Sit on the floor with one leg straight out in front of you. Bend your other leg and tuck your foot in towards your inner thigh. Reach forward with both hands and stretch towards your foot on the straightened leg, bending at your hips as much as possible. You should feel a stretch at the back of your thigh, if you feel a pull behind your knee you can point your toes or bend your knee slightly.
Hold for 30 seconds and slowly come back up, change legs and repeat 2 to 3 times on each leg.
Check with your physiotherapist if there are other stretches that may benefit you.
Many of us spend more time at our desks than any other place in our waking hours. While the risk of injury from sitting down can seem very unlikely, spending hours in a poorly set up workspace can place a lot of pressure on your body and lead to overuse injuries or postural pain. Below are a few tips that can help you set up your workstation better.
The height of your chair is a good place to begin. Ideally, your feet should be flat on the floor, and if you can adjust the height of the chair, your thighs should be parallel to the floor. If your chair has armrests, they should be low enough to allow your elbows to sit comfortably between 90-110 degrees of bend and rest by the side of your body. A small cushion or rolled-up towel may be added to the back of the chair to add support to the lower back to help prevent slouching.
If you are unable to adjust your chair and it is too high, you can use a footrest to allow your feet to rest comfortably.
The height of your desk should be set so that your arms can rest comfortably at the keyboard and hands, wrists and forearms can sit in a neutral position, parallel to the floor. Where possible, put everything you need within easy reach and alternate days using your mouse and phone with different hands on different days (if you can do this with your non-dominant hand!).
The height of your computer should be raised so that the top of the screen is around eye level. Allowing your neck to rest in a neutral position can help to prevent neck pain and headaches. Ideally, if you can set the screen to be 20-40 inches away from your face, this will reduce strain on your eyes while reading.
Some other tips
Being comfortable is extremely important for productivity and focus. If you are struggling with pain, your work will often suffer. Even joint stiffness and muscle tightness can disrupt your workflow, so taking the time to adjust your workstation can save you countless hours in the long run and prevent painful overuse injuries.
Taking active breaks from sitting to move and stretch can help to maintain muscle and joint health, which can be compromised from being in the same posture too long. You can set a timer or make the effort to take phone calls and video meetings standing, rather than always sitting.
You can speak to your physiotherapist for more personalised advice on your workplace setup.
Keeping active can be challenging. For many people, going out for a run or taking time to perform a full workout can be daunting, especially if this is not a part of their usual routine.
There are a few quick and easy ways to add some movement to your day, starting with something as simple as boiling the kettle. As the average kettle takes 2-3 minutes to boil, challenge yourself to see if you can complete these three exercises while waiting for your cup of tea or coffee. You can focus on one each day, or work through a different one each time.
1. Challenge your balance.
Standing on one leg is something many of us assume we can do, yet rarely take the time to check. This is an essential skill that can deteriorate without being noticed until everyday activities, such as getting dressed, are impacted. Being able to stand on one leg is important for putting on shoes, trousers and reduced balance can be a risk factor for falls.
Start by seeing if you can stand on one leg with your eyes open for the entire time the kettle is boiling. Test both legs, making sure you are close to a bench that you can use to support yourself. To increase the difficulty, try balancing with your eyes closed, then progress to balancing on your tiptoes. If you can balance on your tiptoes, with your eyes closed, then you can ask your physio for more suggestions.
2. Heel Raises
Start by keeping your knees slightly bent and lift both heels off the ground at the same time. You can begin with repetitions of 5, have a quick rest then repeat. Challenge yourself to increase the speed of your heel raises and see how many you can fit into your waiting time. As you bend your knees, aim to keep your knees over your second toe. If you feel this is a little too easy, you can progress to single-leg heel raises, which will also improve your balance!
You can start a daily competition with the people in your household to see who can complete the most repetitions in a set time period.
Squats are a great exercise to keep your large muscles working. You can start with 5 shallow squats, aiming to slowly increase your number and progressively squat to a lower position. As with heel raises, when you start to find squats to be less of a challenge, you can move to single-leg squats.
Don’t hesitate to ask one of our physios for tips on how else you can stay active at home or in the office.
Over the next few months, many of us will be spending more time at home. For each of us, this will mean something different. However, regardless of your circumstances, there are a few things you can do to make your time at home a little easier and healthier.
Maintain a routine.
A new routine may take a while to develop and will depend on the demands placed on you by your work or children. However, some things can help with both mental and physical health when staying at home for long periods. Waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day can have a significant impact on wellness, ensuring that you have a better sleep and also feel more settled when you wake up.
Use screens thoughtfully.
Technology can help us to connect with those who are not there, yet can also take us away from things happening around us. Delete or at least limit the time you spend on apps that you find distracting, such as news or social media and schedule in quality catch-ups with friends and family via video.
Take time to adjust your home workstation.
If you will be spending hours at a time on your computer, it is essential to take the time to ensure your workstation is set up optimally to reduce stress on your body while working. You can chat with your physiotherapist for some tips on how to set up your home office.
Stay in touch with your physio.
If you are struggling with pain at home, your physiotherapist may offer a variety of online treatment solutions, even if you can’t make it to the clinic. Remember that in Australia, physiotherapy and allied health services have been open during this time, classified as an essential service, so appointments should still be available. Reach out to your physiotherapist if you are in pain.
Join an online fitness group and workout with others.
Joining a daily online workout session is one way to keep active and also stick to a schedule. Many of the videos allow you to join in live, helping to increase commitment and a sense of community with your fellow exercisers.
Stretch before bed.
Start with just three simple stretches (eg: calves, hamstrings and triceps) and slowly build up your repertoire. Stretching before bed can help to prepare your body for rest while also improving flexibility. Try to hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds for optimal effect.