April 24, 2024
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Improve Your Health by Making Small Changes

Do your kids ever complain to you about having a headache or a backache? Does it seem you are always taking them to the doctor for all sorts of health issues?

Do you ever notice after sitting for a while your neck gets tight, and your shoulders start creeping up towards your ears? Does your back get tight after working all day?

One of the most common sources of pain is repetitive stress and poor ergonomics. The way we sit, bend, stand or work, or the layout of our desk, all play a role in our health, levels of pain and productivity. Sitting too long and poor postural habits may be perceived as an issue of back pain and neck pain. The truth of the matter is many other health factors may be affected. Numbness and tingling in the legs may be apparent to some, but digestive difficulties, fatigue, lowered immune function and a myriad of other health problems may be to blame on a distorted posture, a may even increased risk of mortality from sitting too long (Arch Intern Med, March 2012).

The negative effects of poor ergonomics can be reversed by correcting our environment. A good place to start is by rearranging you work space. If you spend time sitting at a desk at home or work, make sure the height of the computer monitor is set with the middle of the the screen at eye level to avoid straining and having the head flexed or forward of your shoulders for extended periods. While speaking on the phone, don’t tilt your head into the phone and frequently alternate the side you use the phone on. One may use a headset to avoid the strain that results from creating a dominant side of usage. Set your chair and desk height so your feet are gently touching the floor, with knees and hips bent at 90 degrees, and keyboard at a height allowing your hands to gently rest on it with the elbows bent at 90 degrees.

Taking a short break every 20 minutes while sitting can help reduce some of the postural damage caused by sitting for extended periods. Placing your hands behind your head with light resistance, and gently pushing your head back over your shoulders and through your fingers, will strengthen the neck muscles that become weak while sitting. Hummingbird exercises can be used to keep shoulders from rolling forward. Bring your arms out to your side, elbows bent so your hands point towards the ceiling, and slowly pinch your shoulder blades down and back creating small circles with your elbows. Simply getting up and walking around for a minute can keep your low back muscles from getting too tight and cause the core muscles to engage, helping to avoid injury. If you have any medical issues, balance problems, postural distortions (e.g., head forward of your shoulders, or one shoulder higher than the other) or pain with any of these exercises, stop immediately and speak to a healthcare provider before continuing.

Many ergonomic problems are not limited to adults and the elderly; we are now seeing poor ergonomics affecting the health of youths at younger and younger ages. Constantly flexing the neck forward to look at a smartphone or a tablet has lead to the previously unknown phenomenon of “tech neck.” Leaning into a computer screen, or sitting in front of the television is leading to back pain and neck pain in many children. This affects other areas of health. “Posture affects and moderates every physiologic function from breathing to hormonal production. Spinal pain, headache, mood, blood pressure, pulse and lung capacity are among the functions most easily influenced by posture” (American Journal of Pain Management, 1994). Improper backpack use can also take a toll on a developing child’s health, due to a backpack that is too heavy, improperly loaded or improperly worn. We now see children and teens with health problems and spinal degeneration, previously only associated with adults.

To keep kids from developing improperly, and developing life-long health problems, it is important to work with them, so they can avoid these ergonomic pitfalls. Teaching kids the proper way to use a tablet or smartphone, by raising the device to eye level instead of tilting the head down or forward to look at it, can greatly reduce the risk of neck pain and stiffness. Limiting tech time, and incentivizing children by only allowing them as much time with their devices as they spend doing physical activity can help avoid a sedentary lifestyle and ergonomic wear and tear on their body. Inspecting your child’s backpack weekly, to ensure that it does not exceed 10 percent of the child’s body weight, and is worn evenly on both shoulders with weight evenly distributed close to the body, helps prevent excess physical stress on your child’s developing body. Taking small action steps now may be the difference between a child that develops healthy, and one that has long-term health problems through adulthood.

Proper ergonomics and posture are an essential part of living a healthful lifestyle. These tips are a great way to start being aware of your ergonomic environment, and continuing to improve your life. If you make these changes and continue to experience pain, notice any postural distortions, or continue to have health problems, please seek care from a competent healthcare professional that is knowledgeable on proper ergonomics, and how it affects it your well-being. So do you want to be “healthy” or just “not sick”?

By Dr. Alexander Rumaczyk

Dr. Alexander Rumaczyk is the clinic director at Bergen County Rehab & Wellness in Saddle Brook, NJ. He can be reached at: 201-885-3200 or [email protected].

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