neck pain

Sitting at the desk can be a real pain in the %$*&

It's one of the most common questions we get in the clinic - what is the best sitting posture?

To be honest, it would be ideal if we didn't sit as much of the day as we do, but given the society we live in it's going to be a while before we all get to go primal.  

We have all had a think about it and the overwhelming advice we give revolves around optimal sitting postures and reducing the amount of time you sit altogether.

So what can you do?

We all need to become big softies. Softening your neck, shoulders and upper back will go a long way to reducing pain and dysfunction around that area. 

Start by dropping those shoulders. 

Whether you sit, stand or kneel you're still going to get a sore neck and shoulders if those upper back, neck and shoulder muscles are working hard for hours on end. They have to work hard any time you have your arms out in front of you for long periods of time. For instance, when you are tapping at the keyboard, driving the car, crocheting, and then throw in the added tension that stress creates. A neat trick that seems to help is to tuck your elbows to your sides, this lets the shoulders relax a little more and keeps you mindful. Always try and rest the weight of your forearms on the desk or chair if you are sitting. 

Some other good ideas to help you soften through your upper back neck and shoulders include:

1) Breathe and Release - most people find it easier to drop the shoulders, soften and release on an exhale.

2) Driving - hold the wheel on the two lower quarters and let your shoulders rest when you are in a more relaxed stage of a drive. 

3) A Trigger - find a trigger during the work day to consciously soften through the trapezius and drop the shoulders, e.g. hanging up a phone call, sending an email, etc. 

I'm sure you've noticed the recurring theme is 'letting the shoulders drop'. 

If you are quite conscious of this over a period of three weeks, there is a sense of 'retraining' your brain to release your shoulders and neck tension automatically.

There are definitely more optimal sitting posture than others.

We have included some photos of the good, the bad and the plain ugly. Some sitting positions are extremely sloth-like but extremely comfortable, and that's ok. But always remember the more comfortable you are in the position the longer you can hold it - and that can be the problem. 

The thing about maintaining good "posture" or sitting more upright is that the "better" your posture the more energy intensive and the harder it is to hold so then you move away from that position - therefore it’s better for you. Moving more is better for you - it is that simple.

Other simple tricks for the desk jockey:

1. Stand to talk on the phone wherever possible

2. Look out the window at something small and distant (like a bird in the tree) - this is good for your eyes.

3. Have walking meetings outside wherever possible. Who said a meeting had to be sitting down?

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Pillow, pillow on the bed, which is the best one for my head?

Which pillow shall be crowned in glory?

Which pillow shall be crowned in glory?

I am frequently asked about pillows.  Most people who ask me ‘Should I get a new pillow?’ have arrived seeking treatment for a sore neck, insomnia or morning headaches.  They don’t like their current pillow and have at some point flung it across the room in frustration.  They may have paid a lot of money for one or many different kinds of pillows.

What is the perfect pillow?

I’m sorry, but I’m here to disappoint you, there is no perfect pillow.  On a good day or given enough time, you can adapt to nearly anything.  Over the last hundred years or so humans used rocks, horse hair and straw to help us sleep comfortably through the night.  Before that we slept mostly on the ground, bereft of any pillow.  

If we tried that now, out of the blue, then you’d be much like my twenty-four year old osteopathic colleague, Whitney, who recently went camping in Ballarat and slept on the cold hard ground, with only a thin, inadequate mat between her and the dirt.  She was complaining this morning of sore shoulders, sore hips and an aching low back.  Her whole body was yelling at her to march herself right back home to sleep on her $2000 mattress and contoured feather pillow.  Unbelievably, she hadn’t spent any time at all progressively sleeping on less comfortable surfaces over the preceding weeks to get her body prepared for her camping experience.  And really who would do that? 

Our bodies and the bones, ligaments and muscles that make them up, respond to the activities that we ask of them.  If we ask them to sleep on an extremely comfortable, forgiving surface every night then they’re just going to find it a bit of a struggle adjusting to a hard, cold, dirt floor.  Your discomfort is not in your imagination.

So back to the person asking me about the perfect pillow.  The one who has a sore, tight neck and shoulders and is struggling to adapt to anything.  What do I tell them? 

Your pillow is a support device.

Your pillow is there to provide support - it’s an orthotic for your head and neck. 

A pillow that is unforgiving and asks you to adapt should be pushed to the side.  It is meant to provide comfort and adapt to what you need, not the other way around. 

This is not a sales pitch but we do sell a pillow at the clinic and it is the one I recommend to people if they’re genuinely in the market for a new pillow. It has a contoured cotton cover stuffed with polyester fill. The reason I like it is simple.  It’s adaptable.  It has a zip on one end that you can pull out stuffing or put more in as the polyester filling loses it’s ‘lift’.  At night, you you can move the stuffing around if you punch it, or shove it into the headboard to make it higher when you roll from your back to your side. And in a couple of years when the filling bunches up and is full of saliva, dead skin and microscopic creatures, you can pull out the stuffing, wash the cover, stuff some new stuffing in and start again.  

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