Put a reminder on your phone to get up and take a walk for 30 seconds every hour or two
It’s not a myth: humans really aren’t meant to sit all day. Being desk-bound is like smoking: according to experts, it can be just as deadly, and, for lifelong office workers, just as difficult to quit. Sunny Chhokar, physiotherapist at Evidence Sport and Spine in Calgary, sees these health impacts first-hand and treats injuries caused by a sedentary lifestyle. Here, he shares some tips on how a little straightening out can go a long way.
Watch your back
Chhokar says the most common complaint from desk workers is a sore back and neck – all because of the way we sit. In our natural state, our spines are curved in a subtle S-shape. When we sit, our back takes one of two positions: a C-shape, more commonly known as slouching, or a flat back with no curve, the result of overcompensating. Most of us find it difficult to hold perfect posture and we slump down without much thought. This stretches ligaments and muscles in the lower back and causes the head to shift forward, putting extra stress on the neck. Injury can be gradual, as your back becomes stiffer and you lose some range of motion by the end of each workday. Or it can be sudden, like if you exert yourself without giving your body time to adapt. That’s why simply lifting a heavy box can mean a slipped disk.
To get that ideal S-shape, make your seat work for you: invest in an ergonomic office chair or use a lumbar roll. “Find what the sweet spot is,” Chhokar says. “It should feel really comfortable and will keep you from falling into a slouched position because you are being held by the chair.” Next, put a reminder on your phone to get up and take a walk for 30 seconds every hour or two. “It will prolong your body’s ability to work a desk job,” he adds.
Our bodies generally need about 90 days to fully recover from an injury. Anything past that and you’re in chronic pain territory. Often, chronic pain doesn’t manifest in obvious, physical symptoms and therefore can be difficult to treat. “The last thing [an employee] needs to hear is, ‘It’s all in your head,’” Chhokar says. For workplaces to accommodate employees grappling with chronic pain, he says simple modifications can go a long way, like allowing rest breaks, modified hours and reducing overall stress in the office. “If you add more stress to chronic pain, be it physical or emotional, that compounds to it.”