Most of us will have heard this phrase over recent years, so it’s not new news. But is it true? Certainly, sitting for long periods of time is not good for the body, but any repetitive strain, whether it be movement or stillness can all impact the body.
Let’s look at one area and talk about the health risks associated with a sedentary office job. Many of us are based at a desk, sitting for anywhere between 7-10 hours a day, with minimal movement or breaks. It’s become the norm to arrive early, work late and not take a proper lunch break, so in today’s society the health risks are maybe more elevated than they were years ago.
If we’re looking at this from a muscular perspective, the risks of sitting in one position for a long period of time means that certain groups of muscles are in a prolonged state of being either shortened or lengthened. Sitting day in, day out means that these muscles are in a fixed state for longer than a ‘normal’ period of time and what that means is that they then start to ‘set’ into these positions.
What are the most common issues I see as a massage therapist from desk workers?
- Upper crossed syndrome – this is weakness through the anterior neck flexors and the rhomboids and lower trapezius and tension through the pectoralis muscles, sub-occipitals, upper trapezius and levator scapula. The client will present with rounded shoulders and forward head (slumped posture). To treat this, we work on extending the tight muscles and strengthening the weak muscles with a tailored homecare plan.
- Neck and shoulder pain – stress can be a major cause of tension through the neck. It’s common to carry stress and tension in these areas so if you’re feeling under pressure at work it can cause your muscles to lock up in response to this. This can also lead to headaches. Massage will not only release the muscles but also help you to relax therefore supporting with reducing stress levels. Overall a win-win situation.
- Lower back pain – a common cause of lower back pain is tension through the hip flexors and lumbar erector spinae muscles. The muscles become shortened through prolonged periods of sitting so opening through the front of the hips and relieving tension in the lower back area should help with this. It’s important to stretch and move around during the day to support the treatment plan and make sure the muscles continue to be kept lengthened and mobile.
- Pain between the shoulder blades – many people experience discomfort in this area and therefore want a back massage. However, the likely case of this is through over-extension of these muscles through being rounded in the chest. So, you want to be working on the opposing muscles and opening the chest to relieve the strain in this area. It can be quite an education once you start to understand what is causing the pain and once you’ve worked this out, treatment can be much quicker and more effective.
- Wrist or elbow pain – tapping away at a keyboard all day and using a mouse can cause pain or injury. This can include, but is not limited to: tendinopathy (issues with tendons) such as epicondylitis (commonly known tennis or golfers elbow); repetitive strain injury (RSI) which could affect muscles, nerves or ligaments and result in numbness, pain or tingling; general muscle tension through the forearm muscles through overuse. The increase in the use of mobile phones and tablets can also contribute to these issues. Treatment may include massage but some issues may need to be referred to another healthcare practitioner.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list, and by no means is a sedentary lifestyle the only cause for these injuries, it gives you a good overview of areas to be aware of.
What you can do to prevent injury?
- Take regular breaks during the day and get up and walk around. It’s common to feel lethargic at work so doing this will get the blood pumping through the body and bring energy as well as limbering up the muscles.
- If you’re feeling tight during the day get up and have a stretch. Tight through the neck? Do some gentle neck stretch in all direction to get some mobility into the spine. Lower back pain? Do some hip flexor stretches, a simple low lunge with your knee on the floor is effective for opening this area.
- Be aware of your posture. Don’t slump at your desk, keep your legs uncrossed and make sure your desk and computer are set up correctly. Your screen should be at eye-level and directly in front of you so you’re not looking down or straining your neck.
- Consider using a standing desk. These are fantastic and are becoming more common in the workplace. The desks have the option of being used as a standing or a sitting desk so you can mix it up throughout the day.
- Get out in your lunch break. Do some exercise, take a walk, get some sunlight on your skin. All of this will help keep you fit, support vitality and leave you feeling energised and ready for the afternoon ahead.
What to do if you are in pain or injured?
If you’re in pain and feel it’s linked to working at a desk check in to see a healthcare practitioner – a massage is always a good place to start. The therapist will start with taking your history and then perform a postural assessment plus some movement based testing to work out what areas of the body need to be worked on.
Can MASSAGE help?
Often these conditions have happened over long period of time so one treatment may not fix everything. Depending on the severity of the pain of postural presentation it’s likely a course of treatment will be required along with commitment from you to take care of yourself at home and during the day at work. Massage is great but it’s not a miracle cure and the most effective outcomes I’ve had with clients are from those who are willing to put the time into home care as well.
In reality, you don’t want to spend the rest of your life reliant on massage to ‘fix’ all of your problems. What I find to be more effective is setting you up with the tools to support a healthy body and lifestyle every day and then using massage as regular maintenance or when as issue flares up.