If you sit at a desk all day, chances are pretty high that you have some kind of back, neck, shoulder or wrist pain. And if not chances are even higher that it’s only a matter of time. The human body is not designed to sit. It’s normal, but it’s definitely not natural.
The problem is that the human pelvis can not physically tilt 90 degrees and so the remaining 30 degrees required in order to sit at a flat seat in an upright position is done with the lower (lumbar) spine. This tilt can be corrected with a seat wedge so that your hips are higher than your knees however it’s the act of physically sitting that causes tissues to become tight and glued together and joints to become stiff whether your lower back is bent or not.
As well as sitting with a bent lower back, we also end up sitting with a bent upper (thoracic) spine. The top part of our spine from our rib cage to our neck is rounded forward at our desks and so when we stand up this rounded position becomes the new normal as the musculature around the spine moulds to this position so that we literally cannot stand up straight anymore. The result is that to become upright we overcompensate by pulling our neck back putting a ton of pressure on our neck (facet) segments.
As our upper spine is bent and locked forward, our shoulders also slump forward and our shoulder blades (scapula) spread out to the side. This results in us being locked into what’s called an internally rotated position where we lose the ability to be able to get our shoulders back into their natural position. In effect our shoulders are hanging out loose at the front of the socket in an unstable position so that if we lift anything heavy we risk damage.
Kelly Starrett from Mobility WOD and author of the epic book ‘Becoming a Supple Leopard: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance‘ calls this the “douchebag shoulders” position as it’s similar to knuckleheads who go to the gym and end up walking around flexing their muscles with their shoulders forward and elbows out!
To try and stabilise our shoulders our body compensates by relying on muscles around the shoulders to be always on, resulting in super tight pectoral muscles full of knots or trigger points. Put simply we cannot set our shoulders back into a stable and strong position because our upper back and restrictive tissue prevents us from doing do.
But it doesn’t end there. As we sit with our hips in a closed position all day, our hip flexor muscles become tragically short so that when we try to stand upright we cannot fully extend from the hip so we curve our lower back and pull our neck back even more.
This sitting is a viscous cycle where one day we end up trapped inside a box we do not know how to get out of.
So how can we prevent this from happening and undo the damage from sitting? It’s actually pretty simple, it just requires daily mobility and maintenance.
1) Before we start on the shoulders, we first need to restoring suppleness in our thoracic spine and smashing through tight tissue using a foam roller and a double lacrosse ball. With the foam roller you need to fulcrum your back over and into the roller rather than just rolling up and down on it.
2) Then we need to free up our ribs. Our first rib, which wraps around the spine just below our neck, should act as a pump handle and move down as you move your arm up. This can get stiff preventing you from getting your shoulder in a good overhead position so we need to be able to mobilise it so it gets out of our way.
We then need to free up the shoulder blade (scapula) from the rib cage by attacking the second rib with a single lacrosse ball or massage balls and working our way down the shoulder blade.
3) Next we need to unglue the anterior pec tissues with a larger softball such as the Alpha Ball. The tissues at the side of the chest up to the armpit can become horrifically short and painful which prevents us from even getting our shoulders into a correct position.
4) We then need to restore full internal and external rotation at the shoulder, using a single lacrosse ball. Unless we have full range of motion to twist our shoulders inwards and outwards (imagine what’s required when swimming backstroke) we will always be compromised when doing every day activities.
5) We then need to restore the joint capsule in the shoulder by using a crossfit band to distract the joint to the back of the socket to unglue any sticky tissue that may be impinging and causing pain.
Unless we restore full range of movement to our upper back and shoulders we will always be moving around in a hunched or rounded position which over time will become exaggerated. Ever seen an older person in the street walking almost horizontally bent over using a stick. These people never grew up with computers or mobile devices. I want to be standing straight at 80.
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