I’ve struggled with pain in my left shoulder for around 3 years. In my corporate career I blamed my ‘wraparound’ office desk. An occupational health officer came to assess my workstation and gave me a back support and footrest. I took advantage of regular massages provided by an in-house sports therapist. They were great (I often wanted a power nap afterwards) but only provided a temporary fix to the pain and stiffness.
When I set up Comma Sense and began working from home, I convinced myself the pain would go away. It was, after all, the desk that was the problem.
But the pain didn’t go away. When I spend long periods working at my computer, which as a copywriter is frequent, my shoulder is always stiff and painful at the end of the day. The problem is me, specifically the way I sit at my desk. Then I met Kim Cant.
Kim attended one of my blogging masterclasses. She’s an expert in the Alexander Technique, which is great for back pain. Kim visited me in my home office to give me some tips on how to sit correctly and went through a number of exercises to help improve my posture. I’m now more aware of how I’m sitting or holding myself, and I’m slowly learning to correct my posture to relieve the pain.
I was so impressed with Kim’s approach I asked her to write a short guest blog about some of the techniques she used with me and how they can help other homeworkers to correct the habits of a lifetime.
Over to Kim...
Office and home workers often have the same problems - neck pain, shoulder pain and back pain, and sometimes Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). As Lucy discovered in her short lesson in the Alexander Technique principles, it's not the desk or the computer that causes the problem, but our own habits in the way we use ourselves.
The Alexander Technique is a self-help method where we learn to undo habits of muscular tension that have developed over a lifetime of misuse. We all start off as young children with very good use of our bodies. It starts to go wrong when we go to school and have to sit on chairs, which are all the same height regardless of our size. School chairs are designed for ease of stacking, not to aid and develop good posture.
Children demonstrating slumping and the more upright posture when sitting on a foam wedge.
So here are 5 tips on how to improve your posture when sitting at a computer.
#1 What kind of chair are you sitting on?
I prefer a plain old stool. Chair backs make you lazy and stop your back muscles from working properly. If we use a chair with lots of lumber support this doesn't help strengthen your back muscles, so when we do other activities we already have weaknesses in our back. It's no wonder we are prone to slipped discs when we attempt a spot of gardening or DIY. A useful tool I show my clients is the use of a foam wedge to sit on. This encourages a more upright posture and is a good investment rather than buying a posh office chair.
#2 Notice where your feet are
Are your feet tucked under the chair? Are your legs crossed? We all know these are bad habits, but they are seriously bad habits that can cause overarching in the lower spine. You need your legs and feet to help support the weight of your upper body so place them flat on the floor.
#3 Locate your sitting bones and use them!
When seated slide your hand underneath your bottom and locate the two knobbly bits - these are your sitting bones and form the basis of the support for your upper body when sitting. Now slump, what do you notice (you are no longer sitting on your sitting bones?). Find your sit bones again - you will probably feel more balanced and poised and on your way to better posture.
#4 Wear your invisible crown
Imagine you are wearing an invisible crown and think into the top of your head as your spine lengthens towards the crown of your head. Alternatively you could think of the upper molars (the teeth at the back) moving away from your sitting bones. You may get a sense of your torso lengthening at this point.
#5 Notice any tension in your shoulders
Your arms and shoulders work more efficiently when you are sitting upright. The arm is a ball and socket joint that hangs beneath the shoulder girdle. Let your arms hang down to the side of you. Observe any tension in your shoulders and allow them to soften. Slumping causes us to have rounded shoulders and a rounded upper torso, which can develop into a dowagers hump.
Now think about the hands leading the arms towards your desk and the computer. Practice initially with the palms of your hands on the desk, think about your shoulders softening, releasing any tension you may have and let the elbows hang down. Turn your attention back to your sitting bones and feel the support of the chair - think about your torso lengthening. You are now ready to start work.
If you need to lean over your desk it's useful to know where your hip joint is. Most people think it's to the side of the pelvis when it's actually where your trouser pocket is. This is not only where we bend but we can also use this joint to maintain an upright posture and straight back when sitting. So to lean forward go over the hip joint keeping a nice straight back.
A quick recap
You have sit bones so use them more. Why not put a post it note on the edge of your computer screen to remind you.
Think into your invisible crown and notice if your shoulders are opening out naturally or if they're rounded or raised. Allow them to soften.
Apply these basic skills and you'll soon be on your way to having better posture.
Kim Cant is a qualified member of the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique and registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council. Visit her website www.kimcant-alexandertechnique.co.uk