Q: I have a terrible posture and slump at my computer all day. Other than trying to sit straighter, what can I do to improve the resulting back pain?
A: Sitting on a chair is an activity that only humans do - no other animals do that. Research has shown that the pressure on the spine (specifically on the discs) is the highest when seated, compared with lying down and standing. This can lead to low back pain. With the stooped posture associated with computer or, worse, laptop use, the neck is also brought into a poor position and the shoulders hunched, leading to neck and upper shoulder aches and pains.
With increased stresses on the spine, the core muscles maintaining the posture and alignment of the spine become important. Unfortunately in city living, there are a significant number of people who do not exercise sufficiently to maintain good muscle tone. As much as we do not want to admit it, muscle atrophy is a factor that predisposes us to back pain.
Doing sufficient exercise, especially for core strength is important. This can be either through gym work, Pilates or similar. If this is not sufficient, seeing a physiotherapist can be very helpful in re-educating the body to maintain good control of the posture and gait.
Sitting straighter is an option, but what is more important is examining your work ergonomics. You should see if your chair is too low or too high for your desk and adjust it to a comfortable height. Using a lumbar support or rest with your chair can be useful in reminding you to maintain good posture.
I tell my patients with such issues to exercise for two minutes every hour. This means you stop your work on the hour, get up and stretch your neck, shoulders and back. If you are embarrassed, view it like a toilet break. Prevention is better than cure.
Having stronger muscles and awareness of a good posture, will lead to a good posture. Half the battle is won at this stage.
Continue with these regular strengthening exercises and you will not need to see a doctor for such conditions.
Dr Michael Soon is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the Centre for Orthopaedics in Singapore