Desk-side Exercise

23rd April 2010

According to the Health and Safety Executive, 80% of us will experience back pain during our lifetimes. In the past, long periods of bed rest would be prescribed. Today, you are more likely to be advised to get on your bike!

Luke Meessman (right), Master Trainer & Manager at London’s celebrity fitness haunt TenPilates, shares with Mary Linehan his top tips for avoiding avoid back pain.

Luke Meessmann

Luke Meessmann claims that several factors contribute to the chronic incidence of back pain in the country’s work force, not least our lack of knowledge of good posture.

Recent studies of office workers by The Oxford Journals show that the most common incidences are neck and shoulders, upper back and then lower back. With changes in employment laws, few people can be oblivious to the fact that the position and relationship of desk, chair, computer and lighting is important to avoid back pain, but the question is what is the correct set-up?

According to Luke, “Your chair, desk and computer should be set at levels that allow your spine to remain in a neutral position, otherwise, over time, you will be overusing certain muscles which contributes to poor posture and leads to pain.”

Likewise, he continues, “if the lighting in the office is too dim then most people will lean forward and strain their neck in order to see their computer clearly. “

These days, many office workers report that they hardly leave their desks even to get lunch. How do we break this habit and protect our spines.

“Unfortunately it is all too easy to become caught up in work,” says Luke. “Schedule in short breaks throughout the day in order to perform little exercises. You can encourage your colleagues to join in by highlighting the importance of spinal health. We all have tea and coffee breaks – why not a ‘TenPilates exercise break’? They’re definitely a lot more beneficial for your health than biscuits!”

Luke has put together a set of desk-side exercises especially for Optima readers to help improve posture and guard against back pain.

First and foremost, no-one has perfect posture! The general advice given is usually to sit up straight, draw the tummy button in towards the spine, pull the shoulders down and back with your neck and head in a double chin position. In an ideal world yes… however, testing this position myself and on others, it can be very uncomfortable and hard to maintain, stiffening muscles.

A good way to sit down is to have your feet flat on the floor with your ankle, knees, and hips at 90º. The key is to have your bum planted firmly to the back of the chair, with your back rest at around 95º, so you can lean backwards slightly in an upright position. It’s also important to regularly check how you’re sitting, so you can re-adjust if you find yourself hunching forwards or slouching.

Get up and move around every once in a while, take a short walk, or perform a couple of stretches. When stretching make sure you don’t go into flexion through the trunk – lean forward in other words.

Try some seated stretches, too. Reach up, hold your hands straight over your head and then gently lean to each side holding the stretch for a good 20 seconds. You can then lean backwards in your chair and stretch your legs out.

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