Many of us working on computers or at a desk are developing poor posture habits. We tend to round our shoulders forward and crane our head forward. These poor posture habits will gradually tighten the chest muscles and weaken the back muscles. This chronic change in posture can have a big impact on our general health, not only setting us up for tendinitis and compression of the nerves (the power cords of the body) but also effecting even the internal organs such as the lungs. And then we begin to have chronic pain, tight and tense shoulders, or even numbness and tingling down the arm.
Although it can take some initial effort, these poor posture habits can be changed. Have patience and be persistent. These postures did not develop overnight and will not be reversed overnight. However, developing good posture over time is not only necessary, but important for the safe and proper functioning of the body.
Here are three steps that can help you improve your posture and the alignment of your head, neck and shoulders.
First, become aware of proper postural positioning while at the keyboard. Check out this article for some suggestions.Basic Ergonomic Principles
Second, sit up straight and remember to breathe. Most of us carry tension in our shoulders. This tightens the shoulder muscles. When we are feeling stressed, we also tend to take shallow breaths rather than using the larger diaphragm muscles. This tendency overdevelops the shallower breathing muscles closer to the neck and shoulders.
Throughout the day, help your body by taking some deep, diaphragmatic breaths followed by a long, slow exhalation can begin to relieve the chronic muscular tension in the shoulders and neck.
Another method of helping to relax rounded shoulders is to lie on a foam roll or a rolled towel that is placed lengthwise along the spine with the head supported. Relax your hands at your side and practice the deep breathing described above, letting the shoulders open around the towel or roll. (Stop this exercise if you have any pain and seek professional assistance in developing an exercise program that will help you improve your posture).
This article describes a few more good stretches.Stretching for the Computer Athlete
Lastly, become knowledgeable about ergonomics for your computer, desk or office set-up to help you eliminate the work environment stressors that may be promoting poor posture.
Check out this article for the basics of how to get started.Ergonomic ABCs
Marji Hajic is an Occupational Therapist and a Certified Hand Therapist practicing in Santa Barbara, California. For more information on hand and upper extremity injuries, prevention and recovery, visit Hand Health Resources
Relax Your Neck, Liberate Your Shoulders: The Ultimate Exercise Program for Tension Relief
is a good resource for working with chronic muscle tension in the shoulders and neck.