Man stretching his back in pain while sitting at the computer.Working at a desk, playing video games, and spending time on smartphones and tablets all impact our posture.  Sitting in one position may not seem unsafe initially, but one can think of it as a 0 mph injury. We start off in a good natural posture, but as we get more immersed in our work, game, or activity, we tend to get closer to the screen. Joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and fascia all get impacted by this awkward position.

Ultimately the folks who spend more time doing these activities have complaints of pain, weakness, headaches, numbness/tingling, and an overall stiffness and decreased range of motion in various joints in their body.  Poor sitting postures include having a forward head, rounded shoulders, and tightness within the chest and neck. One common ailment from poor posture is compression between the first rib and the collarbone or within musculatures such as the scalenes or pectoralis minor which is also known as thoracic outlet syndrome. This can lead to neuropathic-type pain in the arms.   Another very common area affected is within the gluteal muscles leading to pain in the bottom from muscle weakness and neural compression.

Why These Activities Can Lead to Pain and Injury

Our vertebrae are strong when stacked appropriately upon each other. But this requires proper posture while sitting and standing. For every inch the head moves forward, the weight of the head on the spine increases by an additional ten pounds. That’s like balancing a small sack of potatoes on your head for every inch it is out of place. 

Further, when we sit, gravity and the weight of our head pull us down toward the surface we sit on. Not only can this cause cervical instability by straining the ligaments of the neck, but it also can lead to decreased protection of the brain and spinal cord, especially in those who are hypermobile. But that’s just the start. Poor sitting posture can also cause issues across other regions of the body. Everything from an increase in tension headaches, TMJ pain, and weakness to decreased overall balance, decreased gastrointestinal mobility, and an overall reduction in lung capacity from poor ribcage mobility. 

But injury and pain aren’t the only potential issues arising from poor posture. Postural abnormalities can literally change your body over time, leading to long-term impairments. Poor posture can cause discs to collapse, cause muscles to get shorter or longer, and warp joints by changing their shapes. The effect on joints is particularly dangerous and can cause ailments such as bone spurs and osteoarthritis. 

Our bodies are wonderful for moving around but aren’t so great at being sedentary. The longer someone is sedentary, the harder it is for them to become mobile, creating a vicious cycle that can be hard to break out of, especially when the cause is our job or favorite pastime. 

How a Bethesda Physical Therapist Can Help

Fortunately, with the help of the proper physical therapist, these issues can be corrected without the need to change careers or cut out favorite recreational video games and screen time activities. With appropriate postural re-education from a physical therapist, these 0 mph injuries can be alleviated and avoided altogether. Best of all, physical therapists know how to encourage good posture using the many positions we find ourselves in daily.  Effective core stabilization exercises should be performed with functional life movements such as sitting, standing, kicking, running, walking, lifting, reaching, and more. Not only does this protect the joints and preserve one’s alignment, but it also makes sense with our busy and ever-changing lives!  

That being said, some life changes to incorporate nonsitting tasks are also important. This could include walking, jogging, hiking, dancing, etc. When you do have to sit, try to remember to maintain your feet on the floor, knees about hip-width apart, and support your low back against the back of a chair. If that’s not possible, you can use bolsters or pillows to aid the support, but remember to keep it neutral. Be sure to take plenty of breaks, ideally at least every 30 minutes, get up, stretch out, drink some water, walk, etc. 

Contact Bethesda Physiocare Today to Learn More

Hope these postural tips help to prevent that 0 mph tragedy from happening to you. For those who want more advice on this topic, don’t hesitate to seek physical therapists for more great suggestions, and keep an eye out for my next blog for more insight into posture. On that note, Happy Physical Therapy month to my peers! Feel free to reach out to us by contacting us online or calling (301) 923-4877

Written by Ancy Alford, PT, DPT, CMTPT/DN — Physical Therapist at Bethesda Physiocare, Bethesda, MD