If you are like the vast majority of Americans, you likely spend a large percentage of your day in one of two places. The first place is where you work, which in most cases is sitting in front of a computer for at least eight hours a day, five days a week. Whether you sit at a computer at work or not, I guarantee that you spend at least six to eight hours every night in bed.
With so much time spent in these two locations, at least two thirds of our day, it is imperative that your workstation is ergonomically correct and that you are sleeping in a position that properly supports your spine. In my experience as a chiropractor, the symptoms that drive patients to my office are not usually falls or car accidents, but repetitive actions that they do every day. The most common of these repetitive actions are sitting with poor posture at work or sleeping in bad positions. This blog post is devoted to teaching you how to improve your posture while at work and while you sleep, to help reduce your risk for headaches, neck and lower back pain.
Proper Office Ergonomics
Almost all of the patients that I see in my office spend a large part of their work day sitting in front of a computer. Unless their workstation is set up ergonomically correct, eventually they begin to have issues such as neck pain, lower back pain or headaches. From nothing other than sitting at a desk! For this reason, many experts have begun to refer to sitting “as the new smoking.” It’s amazing how many health problems are the direct result of poor posture! The good news is, all of this can be avoided with just a little bit of work. Here are some tips to help make improvements to your posture while at work.
First, when you are sitting, you should make sure that your weight is evenly distributed on both of your gluteal muscles. This means that you shouldn’t be leaning to one side or the other, sitting on a leg, or crossing your legs. If you have a chair that can move up and down, raise your chair to a height that allows your hips to be above your knees. Also, your feet should be flat on the ground. If you are shorter and your feet do not reach the ground when you raise your chair up, you can use a box to rest your feet on. These are all common causes of misalignments of the pelvis, which can lead to lower back pain.
When it comes to your monitor, you should set yourself up to where your monitor is directly in front of you, with the center of your monitor at eye level. This will ensure that you don’t have to look up or down when you are looking at your monitor. However, more people are beginning to use multiple monitors while at work. If you find that you use the monitors evenly, you should set yourself up directly between the monitors. This will make sure that you are looking right and left equally and not overworking the muscles on one side of your neck. If you find that you use one monitor more than the other, set yourself up to the monitor that you use the most, and then use your chair to shift you to the other monitor when you need to use it. You can even swap the position of your monitors every month or two to make sure that you don’t favor one over the other. Improper monitor height or placement are common causes for neck pain and headaches.
What Is the Best Sleeping Posture?
While there are multiple acceptable sleeping positions, there is one position that is the absolute worst for your spine, sleeping on your stomach. This position is particularly damaging to your spine because it is bad for your neck and your lower back. If you sleep on your stomach, you don’t sleep with your face directly into the pillow, right? You sleep with your head turned to one side or the other. Imagine what would happen if I walked around for six to eight hours every day with my head turned to the left or right. I would eventually have some neck pain, right? If you sleep on your stomach, you do this to your neck every single night! The other reason that we try to stop you from sleeping on your stomach is that it is bad for your lower back as well. When you lay on your stomach, your pelvis is pushed backwards. This causes the joints in your lower back to be jammed together, which can eventually lead to lower back pain. So, if you currently sleep on your stomach, now is a great time to switch to one of the positions I’ll cover next.
One position that I recommend that you sleep on is on your side, although there are things that you can do to help both your neck and your lower back while sleeping in this position. First, your pillow height is extremely important when sleeping on your side. If your pillow is too high, or too low, your neck will likely be strained while you sleep. In order to avoid this, your pillow should keep your neck and shoulder at a ninety degree angle. To accomplish this, the height of your pillow should be equal to the distance from the tip of your shoulder to your ear. To help with your lower back, I also recommend that you sleep with a pillow between your knees. This helps take some of the pressure off of the sacroiliac joints, a common cause of lower back pain.
Finally, the best position that you can sleep in for your spine is on your back, however there are still some things you can do to improve this position. For your lower back, sleeping with a pillow behind your knees helps elevate your pelvis, and remove pressure from your lower back. This is the opposite of what happens when you lay on your stomach. Also, when sleeping on your back, you shouldn’t sleep with multiple pillows behind your head so that your chin is pressing into your chest. This can strain the neck and eventually lead to neck pain or headaches. In general, a single pillow will give you enough support when sleeping on your back.
Since so many of us now spend a huge part of day either behind a desk or sleeping in bed, it is important that you evaluate your posture in these two locations to make sure you are not damaging your spine. By implementing the above tips, and keeping up with regular adjustments to make sure your spine is properly aligned, we can keep you pain free and feeling great.