Posture plays a greater role in the development of pain syndromes than most people realize. In the technological era we currently live in, most people find themselves sitting at a computer desk for a large portion of their day. The sedentary nature of the workplace really can set people up to develop postural dysfunction.
The human body in its design was not made to sit at a computer desk for 8 hours of the day. We were designed to move! We try to get a feel for a patients day as we go through treatment and many times their day can go something like this: drive to work for 30-40 minutes each way, sit at their desk for 5-8 hours per day, then go home, watch TV or use the computer and other devices at home for a few hours and then go to bed.
Some of the common identifiers of postural dysfunction is the slouched posture when they sit in a chair, their body has literally been trained into this position due to being in those positions for 80 percent of their day. Often times we will see what is called anterior head carriage, or forward head posture, meaning that the head is being carried forward of the shoulder as seen from the side view of a person.
There may be pronounced rounding of the mid back spine, another classic sign of someone who sits hunched over a computer all day. All this postural dysfunction is a result of the era in which we live, everyone has a device on them at all times of the day, the majority of jobs in the workplace require extended periods of time sitting at a computer, it’s just the nature of the world we live in. However, the pain syndromes that develop can become chronic in nature due to the fact that these positions and bad postural habits are grooved day after day after day.
The first thing to do to correct postural dysfunction is to identify the dysfunctional tissues. Postural dysfunction in a very general sense is just a series of muscle imbalances. Some tissues are getting used excessively while others are rarely getting activated.
We use the analogy of the workplace to help people understand this concept: If someone in the workplace is doing all of the work eventually they will get burned out from doing all the work that the other employees are supposed to be contributing to. The same is true of the human body, it is one of the greatest examples of a “use it or lose it” system. If you don’t use your body in the manner it was designed to be used, it will break down on you.
If you aren’t getting any body work done, it’s going to be just like any machine, eventually problems will arise and it will break down in order to properly identify the dysfunctional areas an examination involving a postural assessment, a movement assessment and sometimes special imaging such as an X-ray is necessary to get an idea of where the system is breaking down.
We want to discover which tissues are not carrying their weight. Some of the things we find during a postural assessment have been mentioned earlier, slouching, anterior head carriage, anterior pelvic tilt, and rounding of the mid back spine. A movement assessment almost always identifies lack of mobility through multiple ranges of motion.
Once we have identified the areas of dysfunction, it is time to “reset” your body. We need to start introducing new information into your body’s tissues. We use a wide variety of techniques to help “reset” your system. We may use manipulation of various joints to start to break through restrictions in joint mobility, electrical stimulation to help decrease pain, various soft tissue techniques to break up adhesions in the muscle tissue, dry needling to help reduce trigger points, or stretching to lengthen the chronically shortened tissues.
After we “reset” your system we need to then “reinforce” your system with movement and corrective exercise in order to create a lasting effect in the body. There is a saying that is very true in regards to movement and the human body, “motion is lotion” for your body’s joints and tissues. Taking your joints through their designed range of motion every day actually can help lubricate those joints and keep your soft tissue from developing tight, tender spots.
Another way to help combat the chronic postural positions that are causing the pain to develop is to have an ergonomic specialist evaluate your work station to see if changes may be needed. As a general rule of thumb, the monitor height should be slightly above eye level in order to force you to look up and thus keep your head in a more natural position and to avoid straining forward with the head position. The feet should rest flat on the floor and if they do not, a foot stool can be helpful in keeping you in a more upright position. Keeping the keyboard low so there is no need to have hunched shoulders in order to type, can be very beneficial.
There is no quick fix to correcting postural dysfunction. It has typically developed over years of time so the body has been “trained” into these dysfunctions and it needs training to reverse them. It can be done with the help of trained professionals though. First get evaluated so the correct dysfunctions can be identified, and once identified follow the proper course of treatment in order to “reset” and “reinforce” your bodies tissues so that you can combat the chronic pain and postural positions that your body may be in throughout the week.