Ah the 60’s. Remember when you could smoke and drink all day long at work? I don’t personally, I am a bit too young. Today you might be able to get away with drinking on the down-low, but you certainly would not be able to smoke in any office, at least in Canada.
There’s something else which was seen as harmless back then, but today is recognized as a health risk: Chatting? No. Gossiping? Nope. Gross negligence causing bodily harm? Closer…
This may not come as a huge surprise to you as many people have heard that “sitting is the new smoking”, and standing desks are slowly making an entrance into our offices and schools.
You don’t have to look very far to find studies showing how harmful a whole day of sitting, week after week, year after year, can be. Any office worker will testify to the pain it can cause.
Pain and dysfunction related to postural stress is probably the most common complaint I encounter as a massage therapist. I see the pattern: slouched forward shoulders, tight back and neck, tingling in the arms and hands, and headaches. When I ask, “what do you do for work?”, the answer is usually the same. They sit.
At a desk.
In front of a computer.
All. Day. Long.
Why is this so bad? If we are just sitting there then why are we all so sore and tired?
Your body is doing an awful lot of work to maintain your posture. You just may not notice right away because your muscles are designed to withstand a great deal of contractions before fatiguing. More specifically your postural muscles are.
Muscles can be divided into 2 distinct groups: postural and phasic. Your postural muscles are composed mainly of slow-twitch fibers, which are built for endurance and are the ones that keep you upright. Phasic muscles are your fast-twitch muscles, which fatigue quickly.
The other main difference with respect to pain has to do with how muscles respond to stress or disuse. Postural muscles respond by shortening, phasic muscles by weakening. This helps to explain why we feel pain after a long day stuck in the chair: some muscles are seized-up due to decreased blood-flow, and others are being stretched to their limit like a bungee cord.
How do we fix this?
Ultimately it comes down to a combination of stretching and strengthening. First, the muscles which have become accustomed to being short, need to be systematically lengthened using fascial, joint play, post-isometric relaxation, and trigger point techniques. This is the fun part you’d come and see a therapist for.
The strengthening part is not something that’s part of a normal massage therapy session, though an RMT can help steer you in the right direction and provide targeted resistance exercises you can do on your own.
What can you do right now to reduce the impact of sitting on your body?
- Change anything about your workstation – make adjustments to the location of your monitor, keyboard, mouse and chair – to engage different muscles. This is a short term solution, but a good place to start.
- Take short, frequent breaks to give your body a chance to relax and get the blood flowing.
- Finally, any exercise will take the edge off of the fatigue and pain you feel during the work day. I suggest something comprehensive like yoga to address all major muscle groups.
The 60’s are long gone, and one day your pain can be too. Massage therapy can help relieve postural imbalance and set you along a new path to better health.
If you’re interested in booking an appointment for massage therapy, click here.
Rattray, Fiona & Ludwig, Linda (2000) Clinical Massage Therapy: Understanding Assessing and Treating Over 70 Conditions. Toronto, ON