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How to 'unsit' your sitting posture!

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is a general term used to describe the pain felt in muscles, nerves and tendons, that can be associated with repetitive tasks, over use, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression, or sustained/awkward positions.

Since the 1970s there has been a worldwide increase in RSI's of the arms, hands, neck, and shoulders attributed to the widespread use of first typewriters and then computers in the workplace, that require long periods of repetitive motions in a fixed posture.

But, since the introduction and popularity of other hand held devices in recent years this has risen drastically.

In my capacity as a Natural Therapist, working with people through Reflexology and Indian Head Massage, and as a Stretch Coach, I can categorically say that I have not met a single person who does not experience RSI in some form or another at some time.

That may sound rather extreme, but on further consideration

I think you will agree with me.

People in certain fields are definitely at a greater risk of repetitive strains than others, but everyone will experience RSI at some point.

Patterns are a part of our lives.

From the minute we start to move as babies we start repetitive actions and form patterns of use in our musculoskeletal system. Rolling over just seems to be easier on one side. Our first step up in to standing naturally happens with the same leg every time. We seem to have this predisposition from somewhere, either genetics or natal development, as it's fairly easy to see that young children develop their dominant hand/foot/leg more or less on their own.

And so the patterns begin.

Add to this the inactivity of working at a desk, the sustained fixed posture of certain tasks and the level of stress felt by the individual whilst doing the action, the repetitive use of the same muscles, or muscle groups, and RSI’s happen.

Here in New Zealand our new school year has just started, and I was watching a group of students as they made their way to school. One with a bag slung over one shoulder. Another with a very obviously over full satchel causing her to bend forward. Yet more, sitting at the bus stop waiting for their bus, all bowed over their smart phones.

Now, I really enjoy this technological age that we are living in. I really do! I LOVE my iPhone. Spend a fair amount of time on my laptop. And use my iPad daily to create posts for Facebook.

Add to that the fact that I sit for an hour at a time while giving Reflexology sessions. Travel in my car in heavy traffic for long periods twice a week on my way to my other job. And, oh yes, stand for most of the day once I get there! I’m also a musician and music teacher you see. I play and teach the flute. Well, there is a whole postural discussion on its own ... playing a musical instrument for hours on end!

So you see I’m just like you and this article is not going to tell you what ‘not to do’ ... Nope! Rather, I will show you how easy it is to insert some life saving practices in to your day. Tips that may help you survive and surmount your situation and avoid RSI altogether.

Firstly let me tell you how muscles work.

In every movement that we make and in every position that we assume, one or more sets of muscles are involved. One muscle (or set of muscles) is contracted and the opposite set or sets extended. The contracting muscles become tense, shorter and stronger and the opposite set relaxes and lengthens. It therefore makes sense that doing this for a prolonged length of times leaves residual tension in the muscles and creates an imbalance in the partner muscles. It also stands to reason that once we come out of this position, our bodies may feel stiff and inflexible. While much of our lives may be passed in some or other ‘working’ position, we do still have to be able to function and move around, and we want to be able to do this with ease and enjoyment and for as long as possible.

The best 5 tips for improving your posture and avoiding RSI

1. Stack your spine - Place a small rolled up towel under your tail bone at the back of your buttocks so that your pelvis is tilted slightly forward when you are seated. You may also want to place a small cushion in the sway of your lower back too, if your chair is not shaped like that. Then draw your shoulders back and down, and your chin too, so that your head is balanced perfectly on your spine. Maintaining the natural ‘s’ shape of your spine is vital. Paying particular attention to always sitting in this supported position will allow you to relax into this position and let go of muscles that are not needed for the action that you are doing, rather than having unnecessary muscles in use as your body tries to keep itself upright and supported. I always tell my clients and the ladies in my stretch class, that you are like a carefully stacked ‘Jenga’ tower. You know that stacking game? It’s not about being ramrod straight, it’s about being carefully piled and supported. “A good sitting position will stack your ears over your shoulders and your shoulders over your hips.”

2. Go barefoot - Kick off your shoes when ever appropriate. Wearing high heeled shoes further shortens the muscles in your legs ladies, and gentlemen your feet are very restricted too even if you aren’t wearing stilettos. You would not believe the difference allowing your feet the freedom to move, flex and twirl will make to the rest of your body. Try it! Also, grab a foot roller, golf ball or bouncy ball and roll this around under your feet from time to time.

Here’s a great article in the Daily Mail

3. Lie on a foam roller - Lying back on a foam roller for the full length of your spine, is exactly the kind of postural reset that your body will thank you for. Do this as often as you are able and watch your work productivity and general well being improve. You can use a full round foam roller for this, but it is easier to lie on a half round. Or if you don’t have either of them, then just grab a couple of bath towels and roll them together into a sausage shape. I’m thrilled that the one of the companies that I visit weekly to give Reflexology has added a foam roller to their office decor for the use of their employees. Weekly reflexology and a foam roller to restore posture ... Who else would like to work there?

A great article on the Huffington post for you if you need more convincing

4. Do stretches - Did you know that you can't actually "stretch" a muscle? Muscles are not elastic. We can't simply make them longer. BUT they can release! Gaining and maintaining flexibility involves training the nervous system to relax the muscles, release the tensions found there and regain elasticity in the surrounding fascia. And it can be done, I experience it myself every time I do my stretch routine, and witness it in every one of the ladies who attend my stretch class. The good news is you don’t have to attend a class to do stretches and release this tension and regain the flexibility you probably once had, and need to stay healthy and avoid injury. You can do them at work. Insert them in to your work day. Find a suitable stretch to do while you wait for the photocopying to finish, or for the coffee machine to brew your coffee. Grab a moment to do gentle twists when you’re on the loo. seriously, its possible, and fun! There are plenty of fabulous website with detailed instructions on stretches.

Here’s a great one for you

5. Drink plenty of water - Not only are your muscles losing elasticity the longer you stay in one position, you are probably not drinking enough water either. An adult body is composed of at least 70 percent water. Drinking plenty of water helps prevent some of the muscle tightness that is related to dehydration. Imagine your muscles are child’s play-dough. If it is left out it dries up, hardens, and cracks, making it impossible to mold. Keeping it moist, soft, and doughy allows it to be molded and shaped. The added bonus of drinking plenty of water is that you will need to visit the bathroom more, which means you get to move those muscles a wee bit! Oops, excuse the pun!

Here’s a bit about water and muscles

So, before your posture progresses to the RSI stage, incorporate these 5 things in to your work day and work environment and feel better.

Remember that if any of your symptoms persist or worsen, you should visit a health professional for advice. Listen to your body, it’s talking to you, don’t let it have to shout!

x Karen x

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Karen Middleton MRNZ

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