Another Stressful Mouse Habit

Computer mouse users frequently rest their hand on the mouse while reading documents or watching video, even though they are not actively using the mouse. To take some stress off of that mouse hand/arm, take your hand off of the mouse and rest it in your lap or let it hang to the side while you are reading documents and viewing video that does not require your mousing input.

(Apologies for missing November’s Tip…here are two for December to make up for it!)

Neck and Shoulder Stress and Pain?

Any time your arms are hanging at your sides and you reach forward, up or to the side with your arms/hands, you are increasing the stress on your neck and shoulder muscles, instead of resting in a neutral position. Very often, people are doing just that at the computer, reaching forward or up or to the side when using the keyboard or mouse (especially the mouse!) I frequently discover that people who have right side neck and shoulder pain are right handed mousers who have the mouse up on the desk and are reaching for it in all three stressful directions. Ideally, your upper arms (humerus bone) are in vertical alignment with your spine, your elbows are bent at 90 degrees and your wrists are flat when using a keyboard. The mouse should be as close to the keyboard as you can get it, to avoid excessive movement and stress in reaching for it. Use the arm position in the illustration below as a guide for using a keyboard but be aware that any activity that causes you to reach forward, up and out with your hands/arms can create excess stress on your neck and shoulders.

Illustration from Good Posture Made Easy, Chapter 4
Illustration from Good Posture Made Easy, Chapter 4

(Apologies for missing November’s Tip…here are two for December to make up for it!)

Rearview Mirror Posture Hack*

Many people find themselves adjusting their rearview mirrors throughout the day. This tip will help you be mindful of maintaining good posture while driving, rather than giving in to increasingly tired and slumped posture as the day goes on. Set your rearview mirror in the morning when you are at your most upright posture. Then, refrain from changing the position of the rearview mirror as the day goes on. Instead, adapt your posture to the constant position of the mirror. If you are the only driver of your vehicle, once it is set to accommodate your best posture, you should very rarely have to reposition your rearview mirror at all!

*A “hack” is a procedure or way of doing something that demonstrates ingenuity, solves a meaningful problem and is not a well-known solution to the problem.

Head and Shoulders and Neck Pain, Oh My!

At the risk of repeating myself…

Huge, big, major, important #1 Tip: be aware of the position of your head relative to your shoulders. Your head/ear should not be forward of your shoulders for long periods of time, as in reading, using a smartphone, sitting at the computer monitor, driving etc. The fix-it tip for this, when finding it difficult to hold a book or tablet or smartphone up at eye level for any period of time, is to put a pillow, a backpack, a folded up blanket or sweatshirt on your lap and rest your arms/elbows on it. It may not get you all the way to eye level, but it will make a significant difference where head-to-shoulder position is concerned and reduce strain on the neck and shoulders.

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Not Just For Elementary School Teachers

August has me thinking “back to school” and that brings to mind a group that puts excess stress on its neck and shoulders by virtue of the size of students they deal with…elementary school teachers. Because their students and the desks they sit in are short/small, elementary school teachers spend a lot of time bent over walking among their students checking on work as the students sit at their desks. What I recommend, instead of walking up and down the rows bending over little desks, is using a rolling stool to glide up and down the aisles. This keeps elementary teachers at the level of the little people they work with and reduces the day long stresses on neck, upper back and shoulders.                                                                                  

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Back Pain and Sleep Posture

This is a simple thing that can make a big difference. If you have back pain (especially in the lower back/pelvis/sacrum), there are things that you may be doing when sleeping that exacerbate it and there is something that you can do while you are sleeping that might help reduce or relieve it.

First of all, do not sleep on your stomach. Beyond that, be sure that your lower back and hips/pelvis are not twisted when you are sleeping, especially when on your side. You should be straight up on your side. Then place a pillow between your legs, supporting your knees down to your ankles. This stabilizes the lower back and pelvis. If sleeping on your back, it can be more comfortable to put a pillow under the knees to create a slight bend, which takes stress off of the lower back.

(And obviously, if for some reason these tips increase discomfort/pain, don’t use them!)

Using a Foam Roll to Counter the Effects of Sitting

In this excellent instructional video, physical therapist Chad Walding explains some of the undesirable results of “chronic” sitting and demonstrates the use of a foam roll to stretch out and mobilize the tissues in the chest, back and shoulders.

http://youtu.be/Q7sBMicSn14

(For what it’s worth, I do not generally recommend anything that I don’t do/use myself. I have personally been doing these particular exercises daily on a 6”x36” foam roll from OPTP for the past 3 months and, as I am very pleased with the results, I plan to continue!)

Using a Laptop Computer?

Let’s talk laptops this month. A growing number of people use a laptop as their primary and/or desk top computer. From a posture and ergonomic standpoint, this is disaster. If the monitor is in the right place (check out the illustration in May 2014 Tip of the Month for ideal computer monitor and keyboard placement) then the keyboard will be in the wrong place, forcing you to reach up for the keyboard and engage muscles that compress the neck for an extended period of time. If the keyboard is in the right place, the monitor will be in the wrong place forcing you to look down and create tremendous stress on the neck.

The solution: if you are using a laptop on a desk or table, get a separate keyboard and mouse and put the laptop up where the monitor should be (middle of monitor at eye level) and the keyboard where the keyboard should be (upper arm vertically in line with spine, elbows at 90 degrees and wrists straight).

[ An extra tip: the mouse should be as close to the keyboard as possible, not up on the table where you have to reach for it. Most people I see with computer related right side arm/shoulder/neck problems are reaching up and over on a desk to access their mouse.]

Core Strength: “Extreme” Planking

Have you been working on perfecting your plank since I posted that tip in December of 2014? Ready to take it to the next level of planking? If so, this is exactly what you’ve been waiting for!

http://greatist.com/move/plank-variations-for-core-strength

And if you haven’t yet added planking to your repertoire of key core exercises, here is the original link to give you everything you need to get started in style:

http://greatist.com/fitness/perfect-plank

Happy planking!!

One More Tip on Sleep: Pillows

Pillows can have a definite effect, for better or worse, on sleep posture and comfort. And, like mattresses, there is no easy one-size-fits-all recommendation. Let me begin by saying that I have purchased more pillows than I have actually used and I have actually “tested” them by lying on the floor of stores to try to find the best fit, much to the dismay of other customers coming down the aisle! Here are a few guidelines that I hope will be helpful in your quest for the perfect pillow:

Simply put, pillows should help to maintain the alignment of your ear, shoulder and hip in a straight line (when viewed from the side) without bringing your head forward or tilting your head to the side (when viewed from the front).

If you are a back sleeper, you do not want your pillow to push your head up, bringing your ear forward of your shoulder, which means that you will use a fairly flat pillow. Enough pillow should be used to keep your face parallel to the ceiling, tilting the chin neither up nor down. Some people sleep comfortably with a roll under their neck and no pillow under their head at all.

If you are a side sleeper, you will need a thicker pillow to fill in between your ear and the mattress without tipping your head up (too much pillow) or down (too little pillow). If you find yourself putting your arm up under your pillow to make it more comfortable, it is likely that your pillow is too thin (and that you will also end up with shoulder problems as a result).

Many pillows are now labeled for back sleepers or side sleepers (ignore any that suggest stomach sleeping, which is, with very few exceptions, always a bad idea!), which can be a place to start. You may be asking after reading above, what if I sleep on both my back and my sides? There are some specialty pillows with more cushion on the sides than the center that can work in this case, but most average pillows are not designed to support you properly in both positions.

My final suggestion is to ask the store if you can buy multiple pillows and return the ones you don’t want if you keep them in the original packaging and don’t actually sleep on them. (Yes, there are stores that will do this.) That way, you can at least try them on your own bed and get a much better idea of how it will work for you than lying on the floor of the store!