Every job has its hazards. Even sitting down in an air-conditioned cubicle can cause you problems in the long run. Here’s how to do it right.
The Hazards of a Desk Job
There are the main problems that need to be addressed:
- Tight hips
- Swelling in the lower legs
The basic idea here is that you maintain a neutral spine. It should be straight. Most people end up leaning forward.
One trick to fix this is to move the keyboard and mouse closer to you so that you don’t have to reach for them.
Situate everything so that you don’t have to turn your body to operate your computer.
And don’t forget your neck:
Most people sit up nice and straight, but because their computer screen is so far below them, they lower their heads to see it. See the picture below:
In this image of a person at a standing desk, the guy has everything right except his head. His screen is too low!
The muscles at the back of your neck have to work many times harder when your head is tilted forward as opposed to when your head is sitting on top of your shoulders. Looking down at a computer all day can easily cause pain in your neck.
You can have a good spine position at a standing desk or regular desk with a chair. The big differences are in water retention and tight hips, which are coming up now…
Water Retention in the Legs
Sometimes sitting for an extended period will cause your feet to swell. There are a couple of reasons for this.
The first reason is that blood flow coming back up to your heart is working against gravity.
The second is that if your legs are dangling from your chair or if your thighs are squashed in any way, you’re literally pinching the veins shut. When your veins aren’t bringing blood back to your heart, fluid just starts collecting down there.
The way you overcome this is by lowering your chair so that your feet are flat on the floor and the weight of your legs is supported by your feet.
If the chair won’t go lower, then you’ll need to prop your feet up on a wooden box or something similar. This keeps the blood vessels in your thighs from getting pinched and stopping the flow.
If you do have to sit for most of the day, you’ll want to do something that really gets the blood flowing. I have helped several severe cases by putting them on a recumbent bike in the gym. This has your legs in front of you and the repetitive motion helps pump the fluid out of there.
You can also lay down on the floor and prop your legs up on a foot stool, ottoman or the coffee table. That provides the negative pressure and lets gravity do its work in the opposite way to drain the fluid out of your lower legs.
When any of us sit in a chair, our hip flexors are in a shorter position than when standing.
Prolonged sitting over months and years makes it harder for these muscles to go back to their elongated position. So we get what I have called the old man walk.
You know, you’re bent over slightly and shuffling your feet. Just look at anyone for the first few steps after sitting for a while.
Your hips won’t open back up all the way. This then causes pain in your lower back and all sorts of other problems.
I have completely solved lower back pain in several of my clients just by stretching their quadriceps and hip flexors.
Hip flexor stretch:
I often have to really make an effort to convince people that their back pain can be handled so easily. They think that I’m being brush-off or glib when I say that it isn’t a problem because to them it is a bit, chronic problem. It’s the reason they can’t put on their socks in the morning.
But the solution is simple. Get someone warmed up on whatever cardiovascular activity is best, whether it is going easy on the treadmill, stationary bike or rowing machine. Then you take them through quadriceps and hip flexor stretches. On bad cases I stretch them myself. And if they are in pain, consider it a bad case.
Nine times out of ten the lower back pain completely vanished after I got their hips to open up.
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Standing Desk Option
Alternating between standing and sitting seems to be the best option for circulation, posture and your hips.
Just standing all day can also cause fluid to collect in your lower extremities. Standing all day can also cause tightness in your calves, hamstrings and on up your back.
So swap between standing and sitting.
There are stands available that are adjustable and go from seated to standing. Here’s one example:
You Can Survive a Desk Job
If you are generally fit, then you are less likely to be effected by your desk job.
Active people regularly train their cardiovascular systems so pumping blood around the body is done efficiently. You’ll rarely see any swelling or water retention in a physically fit individual.
So what do you have to to do get to that point? Just go to the gym and exercise at least four days per week. You don’t have to be a hero and lift the whole gym, just go in and get started at whatever gradient is appropriate for you.
If you need help, hire a personal trainer for a few sessions to get some sound guidance. Good fitness advice is worth way more to you than whatever hourly rate the trainer is charging. Find some sort of physical activity that you will do and do it. Some people like raquetball, others like going around the neighborhood on their bikes.
Just find a way of moving your body and you’ll stay away from most of the ravages of working at a desk.
Humans evolved in an environment where they had to make a living by building their own shelter, preparing each and every meal and either growing it or killing it. All of which involved quite a bit of movement. Now your survival is linked to a computer. But our bodies are suffering.
Unfortunately exercise has become so necessary because there are more and more jobs that just don’t involve movement. Physical activity was a given in our evolutionary development. It was part and parcel to our survival. If you wanted to eat, you had to move your butt to either grow it, pick it off a tree or kill it.
Now we just walk over and grab something out of a refrigerator.
It is kind of funny that we have to exercise now to balance things out. But with the knowledge we have about the body, we have the ability to perform feats beyond that of any of our ancestors.
So, yes, apply what you need to out of the above to make your sitting life sustainable, but also set some bigger goals for yourself.