By Dr. Jenni Clear
Aloha Big Island! Wanna stay healthy? Prevention is always the way to go! Proper ergonomics is very important and can be simple and inexpensive to implement. Let’s get started.
Your back has natural healthy curves that go from the front to the back of your body (anterior to posterior). These are called lordodic and kyphotic curves. When you look at a person from the side (profile view) and he/she is facing your left viewing area, he/she should have a C-curve in his/her neck and low back and a reverse C-curve in his/her mid back and sacrum. A person’s ear, shoulder, and hip should be in a straight vertical line. These curves act as springs and need to be maintained in order to prevent arthritis, poor posture, pain, decreased functioning, trouble breathing, etc..
In order to keep these curves healthy, support is important. While sitting, it helps to place a rolled up beach towel in your low back area. Shape it like a log, and depending on your size and shape, the diameter should be able to take up the space between your low back and the chair back. This helps a lot! Notice how, by supporting your low back, you are able to sit up straighter with better posture. Keep your shoulders back and down and relax them. When you slouch, you cannot take a full deep breath. Your lung capacity is compromised. With this improved posture, you will be able to take deeper breaths because of increased lung capacity, thus giving more oxygen to your brain and other body tissues.This keeps you more alert and gives you more energy and endurance for sitting.
Next, try to find a seating situation where your back is touching your towel and your legs bend at the knee with a 90 degree angle to the ground (perpendicular). When patients suffer from Sciatica, hip pain, or low back pain, I often suggest widening this angle so that the legs are outstretched and the body to thigh angle is greater than 90 degrees. In other words, your legs should have a downward slope to them. This puts less strain on the SI joints and Sciatic nerve. When in a vehicle, it is best to angle the seat downward in the front as well. A wedge of foam can help accomplish this effect placing the thick section under the butt and the thin section under the knee area.
Other bits of seating advice are to keep your feet flat on the ground and bring your computer mouse closer to you. The top of your computer screen should be at eye level or slightly above. The monitor should be between 18 to 20 inches from your eyes (about an arm’s length distance). Optimally, your arms should be bent in a 90 degree angle at the elbow for keyboard use. This requires the keyboard to be on a lower level than the monitor. Laptops are not ideal unless you purchase a separate keyboard. Placing the monitor on phone books or a stand may allow you to find the proper height placement. Keep the computer and keyboard centered in front of you, not side by side. Wrists should be neutral which means from your arm they extend and have a slight upward “ramp” like look to them. If wrists go “downhill” too much and curl forward or downward, they may get carpal tunnel symptoms.
Take breaks at least every half hour for five minutes plus. Reverse your curves and bring your arms back and down, look up, and unwind your arms. Take three to five slow deep breaths. Drop your shoulders, so they don’t climb inside of your ears and shake them out. Walk around. Sitting puts a lot of pressure on your discs and spine. If you want to make a standing station to work at, this can be great! Or you may try sitting on a large exercise ball which works well with your height as well as your desk height. This method keeps your muscles working in your low back which builds strength in your low back and abdomen.
Whether in a vehicle, on a couch, or at a desk, these tips should help keep your body healthier and less prone to injury and fatigue. I’ll share more helpful tips in future issues.
Dr. Jenni Clear and her husband Dr. James Clear have a chiropractic practice in Kea’au.