In the past few years there have been studies highlighting a new epidemic of the ill-effects of sitting.
Greater sedentary time is significantly associated with metabolic problems and an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
But sitting can also be one of the contributors to a number of orthopaedic problems, such as low back pain, hamstring tightness and general muscle atrophy.
Sitting, especially at a computer terminal, can contribute to an additional problem called upper-crossed syndrome. The term was coined by Vladimir Janda in the 1980s and it describes the combination of tightness and weakness on opposite sides of a joint or region.
In this case, it is a tightness and facilitation of the upper back and neck muscles and the chest muscles and a weakness and inhibition of the mid-back and deep front neck muscles. The combination of this tightness and weakness and rounded shoulders produces a ‘hunched’ and rounded upper back appearance which is also known as kyphosis.
The postural kyphosis that comes from an upper crossed syndrome is the result of sitting in front of a computer monitor for long periods with fatigue of the mid-back spinal muscles and middle and lower trapezius muscles. This then causes the upper back to round forward, the head to drop and poke forward and sets up the crossed syndrome of tightness and weakness.
This poor postural position can cause a number of symptoms, which can include tension headaches from tight neck muscles at the base of the skull.
As the shoulder blades move forward, they limit the space the rotator cuff tendons have between two of the bones of the shoulder, which can predispose the rotator cuff tendons to impingement or tearing.
Space is also reduced between the clavicle and the first rib which can pinch-off nerves and blood vessels leading to pain or numbness down the arm to the fingers. Over time, rounded shoulders can also weaken back and shoulder muscles by positioning them in a state of painful constant stretch.
Sometimes this situation can be abetted by poor ergonomics in the set-up of the computer station. The usual problem is that the monitor is too far away from the user. If it is too far away, the user may crane their neck forward in order to see it more clearly and this can be the start of the problem. A monitor that is set too low can exacerbate the problem. When you are sitting tall, the eye-line should be about one inch below the top of the monitor.
The remedy for this problem is to make sure that your work-station is properly set up. Make sure that the monitor is at the right distance so that you can read the screen without having to crane your head forward.
Make sure you get up and stretch the neck and chest muscles throughout the day. Standing in a doorway with your arms on the door-jam in various positions leaning gently forward will help to stretch the chest. There are numerous other stretches for the shoulders and neck that can be performed as well.
This situation can be controlled and ultimately fixed. However, if the ergonomic factors and postural muscles are not dealt with, this problem will become more chronic and may end up prematurely causing permanent problems.
Kerry Senchyna is the founder of West Coast Kinesiology and is a provincially registered kinesiologist.