Rachel Richards

licensed massage therapist

east village, nyc

News: November 2012

As technology improves, your posture gets worse!

Is sitting at a computer all day actually good for you? It's all relative. If we compare desktop computers to laptops, tablets, and cell phones, then yes, desktops allow for the healthiest posture. Of course, that's only true if the user properly positions the screen, chair, keyboard, and mouse, and assumes healthy posture while working. For more on that, see my article on computer ergonomic essentials.

No matter what device we use, it's optimal to place the screen at eye level. If it's too low, we hunch forward, putting stress on the upper back, shoulders, and neck muscles, compressing joints, and creating painful trigger points. If the screen is too high, we tend to raise our shoulders and strain our necks, also causing painful conditions throughout the upper back, shoulders, and neck.

Laptops are tricky because the keyboard is attached to the screen. If we place the screen at eye level, the keyboard is too high, causing us to raise our shoulders up. If the keyboard is positioned optimally, we have to hunch forward to see the screen. The best option is to attach an external keyboard or monitor and set up your work station similar to that of a desktop. Otherwise, it's optimal to place the laptop on a desk so that the keyboard is at an appropriate height, allowing your upper arms to rest down at your sides, elbows bent 90 degrees, and forearms resting on arm rests. This allows your trunk to be as straight as possible. You can then use your eyes to look down at the screen, rather than bending your neck.

Tablets and cell phones are often even worse for posture than laptops, as they are usually held down near our laps causing us to hunch way over. The trick is to get the screen in a more vertical position that faces you so you don't have to bend forward. For a tablet, you can create a similar setup to the one described above for the laptop, by putting the tablet in a case that has a stand and an external keyboard. But what about that cell phone? It's optimal to hold the phone up to eye level. In other words, bring the screen to your face rather than your face to the screen. If a table or desk is available, you can hold the phone at eye level while resting your elbows on the surface, supporting your arms. If you don't have a surface to rest your arms, bring the phone to eye level and support your arms against your trunk.

As technology advances and offers us many convenient and portable alternatives to desktops, our bodies seem to suffer more from hours spent hunching over our electronic devices. Do your best to remain aware of your posture. Follow the tips above to optimize your alignment and keep your body healthy and pain-free!

Source: Massage Therapy Journal, fall 2012

Feel-good stretches for maintaining healthy alignment

Now that you've adjusted the positions of your electronic devices to optimize healthy posture, don't forget to take frequent (every 30 minutes) stretch breaks to prevent chronic tightening of muscles. Here are some good ideas for those breaks:

Neck: Relax your neck by bringing your chin towards your chest and stretching the back of your neck. Take a few breaths here, and then slowly let your head come back up. Then bring your right ear to your right shoulder (not your shoulder to your ear!) stretching the left side of your neck. Repeat on the other side. Finally, rotate your head so you're looking over your right shoulder. Repeat on the left.

Shoulders: Roll your shoulders back in big circles. Repeat several times and then reverse the direction. Shake out your arms and hands to release tension.

Upper body: Interlace your fingers, turn your palms to face the ceiling and stretch your arms straight up overhead, getting long throughout your torso. Take deep breaths. This should feel great.

Wrists: With your right palm facing down, bend your right wrist so that your fingers point towards the floor. Use your left hand to assist the stretch by gently pressing down on the right hand. Next, turn your right palm to face the ceiling and bend your wrist back so that the fingers move towards the floor. Again, gently assist with your left hand. Hold each stretch for a few breaths and repeat on the left.

When you sit using an electronic device for long periods of time, frequent stretch breaks are critical to maintaining optimal alignment and good health for both the body and the mind. Try it out and see how much better you feel.

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I hope you and your families are doing okay after Hurricane Sandy. My parents-in-law had power in NJ, so Jesse and I sought refuge there for a few days. We certainly have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Wishing you all the best!

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