Musculoskeletal (MSK) Services
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Last review: March 2019
Think about your posture. Many of us slouch at work or are generally sedentary. This means that the shoulders roll forward and the neck comes forward. Here are some tips to improve your standing posture:
- Stand with weight mostly on the balls of the feet.
- Keep feet about shoulder-width.
- Let arms hang naturally down your side.
- Avoid locking the knees.
- Tuck the chin in a little.
1. Postures to avoid
- Slouching with the shoulders hunched forward.
- Excessive curving of the low back.
- Carrying something heavy on one side of the body.
- Cradling a phone between the neck and shoulder.
- Wearing high-heeled shoes can shift body weight forward.
- Allowing the shoulders roll forward of the earlobes.
2. Your posture at work
As we spend a third of our life at work then it is important to consider how we sit. If possible choose an ergonomic office chair that often provides better support than a regular chair and may be more comfortable.
- Elbows – your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle so adjust your office chair height either up or down to achieve this. The keyboard should be pulled close to avoid having to reach forward.
- Thighs – check that you can easily slide your fingers under your thigh at the edge of the office chair. If this is difficult then the space is too tight, and you need to prop your feet up with an adjustable footrest. Alternatively, you need to raise the desk or work surface so that you can raise the height of your office chair.
- Calf – push your bottom to the back of your chair and try to pass a clenched fist between the back of your calf and the front of your office chair. If you can’t do that easily, then the office chair is too deep. Adjust the backrest, insert a low back support or get a new office chair.
- Low back – as mentioned before you can use a low back support such as a cushion to avoid slumping forward or slouching in the chair. You can create a lumbar support with a small rolled up towel or small pillow. A great tip to prevent slouching is to put a tennis ball into the middle of your back. If the tennis ball falls, it is because you have slouched too far forward.
- Eyes – your gaze should be aimed at the centre of your computer screen. If your computer screen is higher or lower than your gaze, you need to either raise or lower it to reduce strain on the upper spine. You can do this by using a computer stand or by using a pile of books.
3. Keep moving at work
Sitting on a chair. Gently bend the neck to one side as if to touch the ear to the shoulder until a stretch is felt in the side of the neck. If you want to intensify the stretch hold on to the side of the chair with one hand. Put the other hand over your head onto the opposite ear. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 5 times each side.
Upper back strengthening
Standing against a wall. The palms should be turned up. Gently slide backs of hands up the wall with a straight arm. The shoulder blades should stay in contact with the wall. Repeat 5-10 times.
Sitting on a chair. Sit up tall as if someone is lifting your head and spine with a piece a string from the ceiling. Now slouch down ‘curling’ the spine into a C-shape. Now sit tall again. You can move between the two poses for a few minutes or hold each pose for 10-20 seconds.
- Sit with the back firmly against the seat for proper back support
- The seat should be a proper distance from the pedals and steering wheel to avoid leaning forward or reaching
- The headrest should support the middle of the head to keep it upright.
5. Lifting techniques
When carrying a heavy or large object, keep it close to the chest.
When carrying a backpack or purse, keep it as light as possible, and balance the weight on both sides as much as possible, or alternate from side to side. Avoid leaning forward or rounding the shoulders. If the weight feels like too much, consider using a rolling backpack with wheels.
This technique is very useful to avoid back injury when lifting out of a bin or picking small objects off the floor. For this technique, one leg is allowed to come off the floor behind the lifter and acts as a counter balance. The opposite hip bends and the body becomes almost parallel to the floor, except for the leg bearing the person’s weight. One arm reaches to pick up the object while the other is often hanging on a stationary object for support, such as a countertop or the top end of a golf club.
Although the chest does point down toward the floor, it is a safe technique since lifting the back leg allows the spine to stay straight and the counter balance offsets the strain on the back.
Half kneel lift
This approach is useful for picking an awkward object off the floor. In this case, the lifter can kneel behind the object and first lift it on to the bended knee. Now the lifter can either straighten out the back knee to propel forward, or push with the front knee to propel backwards, depending on where the object needs to be carried. The chest may point down when the back leg is straightened, but the back will remain straight.
6. Sleeping posture
- A relatively firm mattress is generally best for proper back support, although individual preference is very important.
- Sleeping on the side or back is usually more comfortable for the back than sleeping on the stomach.
- Use a pillow to provide proper support and alignment for the head and shoulders.
- Consider putting a rolled-up towel under the neck and a pillow under the knees to better support the spine.
- If sleeping on the side, a relatively flat pillow placed between the legs will help keep the spine aligned and straight.