Wednesday, 16 October 2013

It might not be the chair that's the problem?

Neck and back pain and repetitive strain injuries (RSI) are a common cause of pain at work and can account for a lot of missed days from work. Often the cause of the symptoms are attributed to poor posture, the chair you use at work, the height of your computer or the position of your keyboard. Nowadays, there are masses of ergonomic devices that are available to use at work or in your car to adjust your position. Yet despite all of these devises the incidence of neck and back pain and RSI are on the increase. 

The thing with posture being a cause of pain is that posture doesn't change dramatically. Quite often people spend a lot of time sitting in the same position and it doesn't cause them pain. Also, if your have a specific type of posture, that's just the way you are, your body will adapt to it. For instance people get labelled with a 'kyphotic' posture and told this is the reason for their pain, but the pain that gets attributed to posture often comes on very quickly within hours or a day. So it is unlikely that this pain is caused by poor posture. 

It has been shown in some studies that a high mental workload and increased stress at work will lead to increased muscle activity. One study found there was increased muscle activity when subjects were criticised compared to when they were praised during a lifting task. See the link:

Another study found that subjects' muscles had less relaxation time when they were under higher metal work load compared to a lower mental workload, when they were sitting in exactly the same position. You can follow the link for this article: 

This over-activity in the muscles is usually a consequence of over-activity in the central nervous system, usually as a consequence of stress. Once the nervous system and muscular system are over-active then you are more likely to get pain and muscle spasms. So, before you order that new ergonomic chair, it might be worth taking a few more breaks at work and getting away from the computer. If you let your brain relax then the nervous system and muscles will follow suit. This will help to relax whichever muscles are affected, be the neck muscles or the muscles in the forearm. It might also be worth trying to make time to relax a bit more generally, as this will help with pain. 

Before writing this blog, I was getting ready to visit a friend in Germany. I had a lot of things to sort out at work, writing reports and preparing for a talk the following week. I was feeling frustrated that I had to get so much done and that I had left some of it to the last minute. I began to feel annoyed and frustrated at myself and then began to feel an aching pain in my neck and shoulders. Luckily, I got the work finished and then was able to relax in Germany and the neck pain dissipated quickly. Once you know the real cause of pain it's a lot easier to get over it!

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