Special Feature:
Make sure you are sitting comfortably

By Kevin Unitt Friday 15 February 2013 Updated: 20/02 08:39

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Practice manager Bruce Chatterton with Jane O’Connor. 06.013.015.leam.nc1

THE NUMBER of people experiencing, neck and back problems, repetitive strain injuries and other such ailments is on the rise.

With more and more workers in the office staring at a computer screen each day, bad posture in the workplace is often to blame.

Observer reporter Kevin Unitt booked himself in for a consultation with long-standing Warwickshire osteopath Jane O'Connor to find out more about the help that is at hand.

AS I SIT speaking to Jane I realise I have naturally adopted a cross-legged position. This is now out. As are many other habits and postural positions I happen to have taken up over the years, from slouching and hunching to forgetting to breathe as I check emails.

Yes, bizarrely that last one is real. Cases of 'email apnea' are rising, where office workers begin to forget to blink, and even breathe, as they sit transfixed before their computer screen, sifting through one email after another.

That's not all. A condition called 'mouse shoulder' is being described as a modern epidemic, which develops from repeated or prolonged computer mouse usage.

It also develops because very few people sit with their back against the back of their chair. Those that do let the chair take the weight, those that don't make their back do it.

Apparently the worst thing of all I do, which I had no concept of being a problem, is 'snuggling' my telephone, resting the receiver in my shoulder as I lean in to take a call. Doing this has even been linked to strokes. As soon as Jane got me to replicate this awkward body position while sat back straight I realised the immense strain it was putting on my neck, hour after hour.

Jane said: “Anything where you are stretching too far is not good. Keep your mouse close in to you, level with your shoulder, keep the keyboard close, ideally elevated toward you. Use a headset instead of a normal phone where possible, so you can stay sitting straight.”

Jane has been a practising osteopath for more than 30 years and is a member of the General Osteopathic Council. Her practice in Leamington is seeing more and more people all the time with strain injuries linked to the workplace.

A few simple re-adjustments, another of which is keeping your computer or laptop at eye level, can have a huge difference.

Many people also lean forward toward their computers, without realising that for every inch your cheekbone is in front of your chest it is putting many extra kilogrammes of pressure on your neck muscles.

Simple exercise can give your neck, back and shoulder muscles the work out they need after a day spent hunched up in one position. A tennis ball in a sock will do, placed between your back and a wall, you moving up and down to massage any areas aching. If that will provoke too many odd looks from colleagues, 'theraband' exercises are good too, essentially a stretchable piece of plastic you hold in each hand and then stretch out above your head, or behind the neck, to work the muscles.

While all this helps, every case is of course different, mine transpiring to involve a weakened left shoulder, the legacy of some childhood injury I've forgotten about. It also turns out my back is overly flexible, which is not necessarily a good thing.

Sleeping on my front is also out, as Jane explains it is an over-rotation of the neck.

Ultimately, for the many hours I put in to sitting at a desk, I lacked the appreciation of just how much unnatural pressure I was putting on certain parts of my body due to my posture.

It is this which keeps people straining through Jane's door on a daily basis, but simple quick adjustments could well make a difference to my, and your, life.

Jane concluded: “Treatments are fine but if people are just going to go back to work afterwards and return to the same bad habits it will do no good.”

So here I sit now, typing this from a much more positive posture than ever before. Hopefully I will keep it up.

Visit www.leamington-osteopaths.co.uk for more tips and information. Consultations and treatments can also be arranged on 01926 335932.

General tips for back pain sufferers

* Keep mobile - Unless your back is actuely painful, try to keep mobile. It is much easier to get back to work if you haven't been completely bedridden for weeks. Little and often rests (preferably lying down) interspersed with gentle walking, or if possible, swimming is a good combination for encouraging speedy recovery.

* Use painkillers wisely - They can help break the pain-cycle and prevent chronic pain patterns setting in. You can use a combination of painkillers and anti-inflammatories to help you keep mobile.

* Take little walks - Depending on your level of pain, walk around the bedroom, or up and down the garden, or around the block. Try to do this two or the times a day, building up gradually.

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Our reporter Kevin Unitt is treated by Jane. 06.013.015.leam.nc2

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An ideal position for laptop and computer use, allowing the back of the chair to take the weight, feet flat to the floor and computer or laptop at eye level. (s)

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