Thursday, October 23, 2008

Simple ways to protect your back

Posture with long stretches in front of the computer ...

"Warning: Your job may be bad for your back. Spending long hours hunched over a keyboard not only throws the delicate architecture of your spine out of whack, experts say it also strangles blood flow to muscles trying to hold everything in place. Small wonder that 50 percent of respondents in a recent national survey say work-related back pain had kept them off the job in the past year.

"Hunching forward all day makes muscles across the mid-back weak and loose," says occupational therapist and ergonomics consultant Deborah Read, president of ErgoFit Consulting Inc. of Seattle. "Once we're out of alignment, gravity has a better chance of pulling us further away from a healthy position. I see so many people walking around in a slump with the head and shoulders jutted forward and the upper back excessively rounded. And, of course, it tends to get worse with age. But you can counteract this problem."

Simple exercises at your desk can keep your back supple and ache-free. When 192 Italian office workers practiced easy stretches and paid attention to their posture for eight months, they found that the number of headaches and episodes of neck and shoulder pain fell by more than 40 percent, University of Turin researchers reported recently. The same approach can work for you. Here's what you need to know.

Q: I sit at a computer for eight hours a day. How can I keep my back straight?

A: First, don't cross your legs. Plant your feet on the floor so your thighs are parallel to the floor or slanted slightly downward. Roll your pelvis forward so your weight is supported by your buttocks and the backs of your upper thighs. Most people sit too far back on their buttocks - they slump against the back of the chair and wind up supporting their weight on the tailbone and lower back instead of the pelvis, legs, and feet. Keep your head and neck in line with your shoulders and your chin parallel to the floor. If your chin is jutting out, retract your neck and pull your head back slightly.

At this point, your natural lower back curve should be relaxed into and supported by the back of the chair, and your upper back may or may not be leaning against the chair back. Your spine should feel tall and straight and your shoulders relaxed and open. To maintain this position comfortably throughout the day, use a lumbar cushion (available online or at a local "back store") or small pillow to maintain the curve of your lower spine. It's OK to lean back, too-just be sure to pivot from your hips instead of slouching or hunching your shoulders forward.

Maintaining this position is far easier if your keyboard and computer monitor are in the right positions. Both should be right in front of you, not off to the side. Your screen should be at eye-level so you don't have to bend your neck up or down. And your monitor should be at a distance that allows you to read everything without squinting or jutting your head forward."    (Continued via Hutchinson News Online, Susan Flagg Godbey)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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