Last month, we talked about how to undo your tech neck – the forward head carriage that’s so common today. Largely the result of looking at phones and computers, it speeds up the aging of the neck and can produce headaches, arm or hand numbness and tingling, neck pain and even permanent changes to the shape of your spine. But – good news! – it can typically be reversed with regular bodywork, ergonomic tweaks and and minor lifestyle shifts.
This month, we’re talking about “the slump” – what people generally call “poor posture.” Historically reserved for teenagers and gamers, “the slump” has become ubiquitous with work from home orders and makeshift offices that have been fashioned from bar stools, dining room chairs and (gasp) sofas. “The slump” actually sets the stage for tech neck – it’s all one spine after all! So, we’ll talk about what happens physiologically, why it’s about more than aesthetics and how to correct and potentially reverse the damage done.
What constitutes a “slump?”
You likely already have an image in mind – but what you should know is that the lower back, or lumbar spine, should have the same 35-45 degree anterior to posterior curve that the neck (or cervical spine) should have. That curve provides structural stability and keeps the weight of the body on the tough, bony posterior portion of the spine. When we sit at all – even with proper posture – the bulk of that curve disappears. This causes weight to translate from that tough posterior part to the anterior part of the spine – where the discs and vertabrae live. If you are seated with a slumped or curved posture, this translation is exaggerated and more weight is transferred to the discs. Simply put, we are not meant to sit as much as we do, and certainly not in the positions we assume. If this is sounding familiar to our talk on tech neck, that’s because it is. The mechanism of injury may be different, but the result is the same.
When we are younger and have plump, hydrated discs, this increased pressure can cause the disc material to move out of the disc space. This is called a disc bulge. While they can be asymptomatic, this can become problematic when that disc material touches an exiting nerve root (called a herniation). Typically, this presents as radiating pain into the buttocks, posterior thighs and even down to the foot. It can be quite excruciating and often no comfortable position can be found.
As we age, our discs get drier and smaller (called disc dessication). When the extra pressure from sitting or slumping happens then (or just accumulated over years of deskwork), it can accelerate the aging process. The function of discs is to act as a cushion, and keep the vertebrae and other soft tissue structures from touching each other. As they disappear (again, quickened by seated or slumped postures) the bones become closer and closer until they rub against each other. This encourages osteoarthritis, or increased calcium deposition and associated inflammation. That extra bony growth can also touch the nerves, producing the pain we mentioned above. In a nutshell, extended seated or slumped postures accelerate aging and pain. No bueno.
So, what to do about it?
- If possible, sit less. Stand up desks are great and I recommend a 50/50 split between sitting and standing. Use the same rules for your neck with your standing desk.
- Proper desk ergonomics bear repeating. Sit back in your chair. Use a lumbar support, which helps maintain some of the lumbar curve, keeping weight off your disks. Keep your feet on the floor, your hips and knees at 90 degrees. Apply the same concepts to your car.
- Take breaks. Walk around, drink some water, go outside in natural sunlight if possible.
- Stretch. See the videos below for some helpful stretches: hamstring, IT band, piriformis, anterior hip openers (sooo good!).
- Get adjusted. Nothing takes the place of bodywork.
- Use a posture pump. Cervical and lumbar posture pumps are the most evidenced based (at home) tool to maintain your lordoses and combat both tech neck and “the slump.”
Got questions? Let us know! Email me here or call us at 843-416-8218
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