Are you taking care of your spine? Hours spent in front of a desk can often lead to a flattening of the lumbar curve for long periods of time. The problem with this is that the spine relies on a series of curves to maintain alignment and balance of other structures. Mainly the neck. With a flat lumbar spine, a consequent increase in flexion of the thoracic spine usually results which also leads to a protusion of the chin forward of the ideal alignment, which is resting over the sternum or breast bone.
The spine is made up of 26 individual vertebrae and each of these individual segments each rely on their relationship to their predecessor to maintain ideal alignment and function. Much like a suspended coil of rope, shake one end of the rope and the reaction follows all the way through to the other end. So does this stand true for the intricate alignment of spinal segments. Even the pelvis can often have a major influence on the ultimate alignment of the neck.
As many of our clients are office workers and spend long hours in front of computers, common complaints of lower back issues present at our clinic. People are working longer and harder. Days of 10-12 hours are not uncommon. The main issue here is prolonged hip flexion. Sitting in a chair means your hips are flexed. Consequently, the lumbar spine is forced into flexion and the lordotic lumbar curve is flattened. This position then negates the consequential thoracic convex curve and ultimately the resulting curvature of the cervical spine. Sounding like an anatomy lesson? Here’s the deal – flat spines are not ideal. The spine should have three curves. Lumbar (lordotic), Thoracic (kyphotic), cervical (lordotic). A change in the lumbar curve results in changes to the other curves.
The head is approximately 3-4kgs in an average adult. This weight balances on the atlanto-occipitial joint, or C1. Thats a lot of weight on top of a very small point, much like bodyweight on a stiletto. Hence, any deviation in alignment will result in the vast musculature of the upper thoracic and cervical spine to contract to maintain ideal head alignment. In other words – YOUR NECK MUSCLES. This can and does lead to all sorts of tension and alignment issues which causes pain, headaches and related pain such as jaw clenching.
The important thing is EXTENSION OF THE SPINE. With all this forward focus on computer screens and protracted shoulders leaning into the desk, we don’t extend our spines enough. Imagine a dog or cat when it first wakes up – it pushes into it’s hind legs, then takes the weight in its front legs and stretches its spine both ways. We need to do the same – there is a reason there is a yoga pose colloquially called the ‘downward dog’. We don’t bend backwards enough. We don’t extend our spines often enough without being conscious of it.
There is a slight trend in workplace ergonomics developing of ‘standing desks’ where counters replace desks and standing up is encouraged to work on your computer. I can’t encourage this more. This promotion of getting ‘out of the chair’ is exactly what is needed to move the body in its natural plane. We have not developed in our evolution to become seated individuals. Well not yet, hopefully. More movement and more extension is what is needed. I admire the Japanese and Chinese principle of workplace exercise regimes. Workers are encouraged to move their body and limbs in various patterns to combat fixed workplace positions. We could all take a leaf out of this book.
I remember a teacher in grade 5 who used to take us out of the classroom and play a game of rounders for 15-20min during lessons. Much to the chagrin and envy of the other classes. I completely believe that this made our classroom more effective as attention spans were stimulated physically and bodies were active and awake from physical activity. “regular participation in physical activity is linked to enhancement of brain function and cognition and thereby positively enhancing academic performance”.
Amika Singh PhD.
I encourage all of us to be more mindful of ‘getting out of the chair’ and ‘away from the desk’ in order to get our health and well-being into shape. Buying a Swiss Ball is one of the best things you can do – get it in your study or lounge room – roll around on it, bend backwards, play with your kids on it. Get your spines moving or else you stand to be stuck in a position of forward flexion well before you reach the over 80′s age bracket.
I've long been an advocate of yoga based exercise, not only for good balance with sports activities and mediatative exercise, but also to get a good range of motion occuring through your body. Get your own ‘downward dog’ happening in classes to avoid having to come in and get pummeled back into alignment by our therapists. You only need to take one decision. GET YOUR SPINE EXTENDING.