By Dr. Natalie Cordova
Are you an athlete? No? How about a corporate athlete? Do you compete in the corporate world while sitting at your desk? Still no? You are an athlete! You have to understand, I see an athlete as someone that uses their body to compete. An athlete’s body must be a highly tuned, well functioning machine. Still, many corporate athletes have forgotten that they need their bodies to work as well as possible in order for them to perform at their highest level… even if they never leave their chair.
Many corporate athletes have bodies that are not working the way they should, even beginning to break down and leave them dealing with regular aches and pains as a part of their normal day. Why do our bodies break down? Typically, you can trace most of your body’s musculo-skeletal problems to imbalances, posture, and overuse.
Imbalances are easy to identify, if you know what you’re looking for. Take a look at the movements and activities you do during an average day you will see that you basically do the same things each day. Over and over again. Day in and day out. Not much variety, and not much balance. Balance would mean that you do many activities involving muscles of your front as well as your back. Good balance would also involve movements on the right and left sides of your body.
The computer user keeps their hands in front of them all day, head pushed forward and eyes glued to the screen. They keep this nearly identical posture as they drive into work, and when they drive home, before resuming this posture again at the dinner table and the couch. How many hours in a day are they imbalanced in a forward position? Eight? Ten? Sixteen? Is it any wonder that their muscles, ligaments, and tendons start to change shape?
Bad posture is also easily identified… usually on someone else. Have someone take a look at you while you work at your desk. Is your monitor up high enough or are you looking down at it by bending your neck? How’s your chair? Does it allow you to sit up straight? Are your shoulders hunched?
What about the position of your mouse, where you put the papers you are reviewing, how you hold your phone, the angle of your wrists… it can be a lot to look at! You want to make sure that your body can stay in as much of a good, well-balanced posture for as much of the day as possible. Having a friendly co-worker take a look at you and your body position can allow you to address potential issues before it’s too late. It only takes a minute, and you can return the favor by observing them at their workstation.
Overuse injuries come from doing any movement over and over again until the body part just plain wears out! These injuries can occur over a shorter period of time when imbalances and poor posture are also a part of that movement. Trauma is usually easy to identify when it involves falling down or a car accident. What about repetitive trauma, also called micro-trauma?
Micro-trauma is not so easily noticed until symptoms start to appear. The same movement or action that caused the injury becomes painful to do. That should be your red alert that you cannot keep doing that movement in the same way. Even treatment will only temporarily relieve the pain if you go back to doing the same thing the wrong way again every day.
The symptoms of your body breaking down are not always pain. Other warning signs can be there for years before pain shows up. Bad posture is already a warning sign that trouble is ahead. The typical shoulder slouching head forward posture is rampant in our society! You likely don’t have to leave your house to find someone living with this posture.
Bad posture leads to further imbalances and a speeding up of the overuse injuries. If you take a look at someone with this posture, you’ll notice that muscles in the front (like the chest muscles) start to become shorter, while the back muscles start to become longer. This is not just a visual change, but a physical change. Your muscles are actually becoming short in the front and long in the back, a serious imbalance.
Another symptom is a loss of range of motion, or a loss of the normal ability to move the spine or any other joint through all of their normal movements. Does your head turn painlessly right and left to the same degree? Can you move your head forward and back easily, or just forward? What about your low back or other joints like your wrists, elbows, and shoulders? Compare side to side and see if they are equal. Of course they could both need help, but this is a good starting point.
The good news is that most of these problems can be helped without surgery. Of course, every person is different and when they decide to do something about their problem is also very important. Wait too long and you may eliminate many conservative treatment options. Catch it early and make some changes to your workstation and you can avoid many painful lessons later.
For now, concentrate on your posture and evaluate your work station. Seek out activities that will allow some balance back into your movements, including weight workouts and stretching. If you are already experiencing pain, now is the time to do something about it. These problems rarely resolve themselves on their own. You must act by seeking the assistance of a qualified health professional.