How to Improve your Sitting Posture

As we sit throughout our day looking at a computer screen, we slowly start to develop a forward head posture and rounded shoulders.  There are many postural exercises that we can perform throughout our day to help prevent this “slumped” posture. Check out this video by Dr. Amanda at Harbor Physical Therapy to learn how to perform a scapular retraction exercise to help improve your sitting posture.

 

 

Poor Posture Can Cause Headaches

There are 3 major types of headaches:

  1. Cluster
  2. Migraine
  3. Tension

Cluster and migraine headaches generally are due to a problem with the blood vessels while tension headaches are typically due to poor posture. Tension headaches usually cause a dull pain in the head, neck, temples, scalp or shoulders.

Forward head posture is a leading cause of neck pain, headaches, and shoulder pain. For every inch your head is located more forward from sitting right on top of your shoulders, the perceived weight of your head increases by 10 pounds.

Steps to improve posture:

  1. Set-up your work station to decrease strain on your neck.
    • The top 1/3 of the screen should be even with your eyes.
    • Elbows should rest comfortably by your sides.
    • Hips should be slightly higher than your knees with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Use a supportive neck pillow for sleeping.
  3. Perform neck stretches throughout the day.
  4. Perform postural strengthening exercises throughout the day.

If these steps do not improve your posture, schedule an appointment at Harbor Physical Therapy to address tight musculature and receive a catered exercise program based upon your presentation.

Sitting Long Term and Stretching

Do you sit in front of the computer most of the day? Do you get tension headaches, neck pain, and sore chest muscles?

This is a result of repetitive forward head movement that can be from typing, reading and looking down to write. Excessive forward head posture puts strain on your neck and shoulder muscles. Perform the pectoralis stretch below to decrease strain to your neck and shoulder muscles.

Stand in a doorway and place your arms about 90 degrees along the sides of the door frame. Step through the door frame until you feel a stretch across your chest. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds. Alternate your foot forward with each stretch.

Pectoralis Stretch
Pectoralis Stretch

Core Strengthening

The core muscles include upper abdominal muscle, rectus abdominus , lower abdominal muscle, transverse abdominus, internal and external oblique muscles, and lower back muscles.

Strength and power originate from the center of the body. The core stabilizes the body with arm and leg movement. If the core is weak, you have a greater chance of back injury. If the core muscles are strong, it decreases the likelihood of back injury with pulling, pushing, lifting, bending, and reaching. A strong core improves posture, balance, stability, and endurance during activity.

If you want to learn how to perform core strengthening exercises, contact Harbor Physical Therapy.

Headaches

Headaches can be related to muscle tightness.  Tension in the neck muscles can radiate symptoms to the jaw, shoulder, or head. For example, tightness in the upper trapezius muscle (on the top of the shoulder) is a frequent cause for pain in the temples. Tight muscles in the back of the head underneath the skull can cause headaches in the back of the head or radiate pain to the forehead. Cervical spine tightness can also trigger migraines. Poor posture, muscle weakness, and spinal alignment can all contribute to headaches.

Physical Therapy will decrease muscle tightness, restore mobility to the joints, improve postural awareness, improve body mechanics with daily activities, and improve strength and stability. Physical therapist use modalities such as moist heat, ice, soft tissue massage, manual techniques, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, stretching, and postural strengthening exercises to provide treatment for headaches.

If you suffer from headaches, tight neck muscles might be the cause. Contact Harbor Physical Therapy for an evaluation to determine if your headaches are related to muscle tightness.

What is a Trigger Point?

A trigger point is a specific spot on a tight band of muscle that is hyperirritable. Usually you can feel a nodule or knot in the muscle. When you put pressure on the trigger point, it will feel tender and possibly radiate pain to another area.

Trigger points are most commonly located in the postural muscles of the neck, shoulders, and upper back. Trigger points can manifest themselves in tension headaches, ringing in the ear, and jaw pain.

Lack of exercise, sitting at a computer with poor posture, vitamin deficiencies, lack of sleep and micro trauma that occurs with sports and repetitive activities can all contribute to trigger points.

Physical therapists are trained to help inactivate these trigger points. Physical therapists will use modalities such as heat or ice, soft tissue massage, ultrasound and stretching to help reduce pain and tightness at the site of the trigger point.

What is good posture and which exercises can I do at the gym to improve my posture?

While standing, if you can draw an imaginary straight line through your earlobe, the tip of your shoulder, through your knee, and the middle of your ankle, you have good posture. Standing with good posture usually involves doing a slight chin tuck so your head is over your shoulders, pulling your shoulders back and tucking in your stomach.

Good posture lends to less stress on your joints and muscles resulting in less discomfort and risk for injury.  At first, maintaining good posture may be tiring. Eventually, you will build up the endurance in your muscles and it will come more naturally.

Here are some examples of stretches that you can perform to help achieve good posture. 

Pectoralis muscle stretch– Just put your hands up on a doorway and gently step through with one foot until you feel a stretch. All stretches should be held between 15-60 seconds.

Corner Stretch

Hamstring stretch– You can sit or stand. Put one foot up on a step or the coffee table and lean toward your foot.

Hamstring stretch

Shoulder blade squeezes– You can just squeeze your shoulder blades together or use an exercise band to row your shoulder blades together.

Rest position

Scapular Retraction

Good posture involves training the body to be in a position that results in less strain on your muscles and joints. If you are looking to improve your posture or decrease your neck/back pain with long-term sitting or standing, make an appointment at Harbor Physical Therapy for an individualized treatment program.

Guidelines to Prevent Injury While Shoveling Snow

It’s that time of year again when you may have to deal with the snow.  Many people injure themselves when shoveling snow.  Therefore,  here are some tips you can use to avoid a shoveling injury this year.

Guidelines to Prevent Injury While Shoveling Snow

  1. Prior to shoveling, you should warm your body up.  This can be done by taking a 5 minute walk and moving your arms in a circular motion.  This causes increase blood flow to the areas of your body you will be using to shovel snow to prevent injury.
  2. Use an ergonomic snow shovel. One with a curved handle to keep your back straight while shoveling.
  3. Push the snow if possible. Pushing the snow away is better than lifting the snow. It you have to lift it, make sure to squat with feet shoulder width apart, and bend your knees and tighten your abdominals. Don’t bend over at the waist rounding your back. You want your legs to do the work, not your back.
  4. Scoop small amounts of snow at a time.
  5. Use a shovel with a plastic blade rather than metal because it is lighter.
  6. Keep the shovel close to your body and dump the snow in front of you or pivot your feet to turn and dump the snow to the side (never twist your body).  The worst position you can be in while shoveling snow is bent over at the waist, scooping and then twisting to throw the snow.  That position puts a great deal of pressure on the discs in your spine.
  7. Use boots with good traction and once you have cleared an area, put sand or salt down to help with your traction, while continuing to shovel.
  8. Also, make sure you take breaks. Drink lots of water and avoid caffeine or smoking before you shovel.  Caffeine can cause an increase in your heart rate and constrict your blood vessels. If you experience any chest pain, make sure you call for help.

Shoveling with Good Biomechanics

How to Prevent Back Injury with Lifting and Household Chores

Many of us have gone to pick something up from the floor or move a piece of furniture and felt some type of back discomfort.  Good body mechanics during lifting or moving objects can prevent back injury by putting less strain on your back muscles.  Listed below are guidelines to prevent back injury with lifting and household chores.

Guidelines to prevent back injury with lifting

  1. When lifting an object, stand with your feet shoulder width apart or 1 foot in front of the other.
  2. When picking something up off the ground, bend with your knees and hinge at your hips keeping the normal curves in your back.  Do not slouch forward.
  3. Also, tighten your lower abdominal muscles (refer to blog topic- Can back pain be prevented?) and maintain the contraction throughout the lift. Your abdominal muscles and your back muscles work together to give support to your spine.
  4. When lifting, keep the object close to your body.
  5. Use your legs and buttocks to straighten back up, not your back.
  6. Carry things at waist level.
  7. If you must reach for the object, stand on a chair or stool.  Do not arch your back.
  8. PUSH, do not pull when you are moving an object.

Guidelines to prevent back injury with household chores.

  1. Washing dishes– to decrease back strain at the sink, open the base cabinet and put your foot up on the ledge to become closer to the sink.
  2. Vacuuming– Walk with the vacuum or lunge forward onto one foot keeping your back straight, rather than bending forward with each push of the vacuum.
  3. Making the bed– Put one knee down on the bed when fastening a sheet to the corner of the mattress or squat to fasten it.
  4. Grooming– Put one hand down on the counter in the bathroom while using the other to brush your teeth or shave. Also, you can put a foot up onto the ledge of the base cabinet as in the kitchen.

Bending at knees for objectLifting objectLifting object

Sitting Posture at the Computer

How to Maintain Good Sitting Posture at the Computer

We spend a lot of time sitting in front of the computer. Sitting at the computer improperly can lead to injuries at the neck, back, wrist and elbow.  Below are guidelines to help maintain good posture while sitting in front of your computer.

  • To support the low back while sitting, make sure to sit with your back touching the back of the chair and use a lumbar support.  The lumbar support should fill the space in the curve of the low back to avoid pressure on your spine and reduce muscle fatigue in the low back muscles.
  • Your feet should sit comfortably, flat on the floor.  If they don’t reach the floor, use a footstool. Your hips should be slightly higher that your knees.
  • Do not twist or reach while you are using the computer and make sure your work is in front of your body.  Your wrists should be straight and avoid using a wrist rest.  A wrist rest tends to put a strain on the neck and shoulders because it elevates the height of your wrist from the table surface.  Your keyboard should be at elbow level and you want your elbows and upper arms resting close to your body.
  • The computer monitor should be an arms length distance away from you (about 20 inches). Your eyes should be in line with a point on the screen 2-3 inches below the top of the monitor.  Research suggests that having the center of the screen 17.5 degrees below eye level is optimal for neck alignment and for reducing glare.
  • Try to take breaks from sitting because being in one position for too long can stiffen muscles.  A couple of exercises you can do during the day to prevent neck stiffness includes: rolling the shoulders forward and backward, gently rotating your head, and side bending your head to stretch the neck muscles.