Body position and posture is such an important factor in the development of back pain. Most of us will travel to work sitting on the train, the bus or in the car. We then spend most of the day sitting at a desk behind a computer or in meetings. We sit on the train, the bus or in the car on the way home to then sit on the couch until it is time to go to bed. Now with the addition of technology, we will sit hunched over a device of some sort such as a phone, tablet or laptop. As we spend so much time sitting it is important we do it properly!
Most people have a general idea of how to sit with a good posture. The issue is sustaining it and/or what we are doing whilst sitting. Our spine in a correct posture is designed to help displace and transfer mechanical load evenly without compromising any particular structures. Sitting in a slumped or slouched position with our head forward shifts the centre of gravity away from the base of support. Our centre of gravity (COG) is a point around which the force of gravity appears to act and where the combined mass of the body is concentrated. The base of support (BOS) refers to the area and point of contact beneath a person or a structure. For example our feet are the BOS for the body when standing or likewise the thoracic spine may be considered the BOS for the cervical spine. As the centre of gravity shifts further outside the base of support the mechanical load transferred musculoskeletal structures increases. This means that our muscles, joints and ligaments will have to work harder to hold that position.
In the case of the cervical spine, you can see from the image below that the greater the angle of cervical spine the heavier the head theoretically becomes. The head roughly weighs about 5kg in a normal upright position, however it can theoretically reach 27kg at an angle of 60 degrees. The structures of the neck and back have the ability to tolerate with this amount of force for short periods of time. However, sustained loading in this position can lead to pain due to tissue fatigue, overuse and irritation. In the long term structural changes may begin to develop such muscle hypertrophy/tightness, muscle inactivation/weakness, ligamentous laxity and joint degeneration. These changes can result in pain and loss of function.
The same principal applies for other regions of the body such as the low back. Daily activities such as washing the dishes, washing the car, sweeping, making the bed and brushing your teeth typically involves a slight forward bend at the low back and hips. This again displaces your centre of gravity outside your base of support, putting strain on the structures of the low back and pelvis. This is not too say that you should avoid sitting and the house work at all costs but to be mindful that putting yourself in these positions repetitively or incorrectly may promote pain and injury. Avoiding sustained postures and alternating with your position every 20-30 minutes throughout the day will help avoid postural overload. Exercises that promote greater strength and endurance of the postural muscles will also be beneficial to avoiding postural overload. Chiropractors can help reduce symptoms related to postural stress and injuries as well as help prevent further re-occurrences through the prescription of exercise programs and postural advice.
Below is a link to a video that demonstrates a handful of exercises that help reduce postural overload and prevent pain in the cervical and thoracic spine. These exercises can be performed in the workplace or at home. For more information on this topic and the exercises please don’t hesitate to contact the George Street Chiropractic team!