Fighting The Good Fight Against My Office Chair

As a therapist, I sit about 10-12 hours a day. Sure, I get up every 45 minutes between sessions to do a quick stretch, grab a drink and maybe take a bathroom break but for most of my day, I am living a very sedentary professional existence. Research has shown the many negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle, including increased rates of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. Luckily, I only work 3 days a week and try to keep active on my off days so I don't think my overall lifestyle would qualify as sedentary but my days at work certainly do. Women who have a sedentary jobs are also at risk for diabetes, misaligned hips, carpal tunnel syndrome, dry eyes, varicose veins, decreased metabolism, and muscle strain. A recent study even showed that having a job that requires extended sitting can even be a source of depression!

With the odds stacked against those who have sedentary jobs, it's important to be aware of self-care techniques to combat the many medical and mental health risks that are latent in our lines of work. There are many options ranging from free to quite costly.

FREE

  • Walk or bike to work if possible. Park as far away as you reasonably can if you must drive. (This is pretty easy for me since parking can be challenge at my office!)
  • Once you are at work, take the stairs! Avoiding the elevator can provide you with a quick chance to burn some calories, just one flight of stairs a day can burn 20-40 extra calories!
  • Keep yourself from adding extra calories by eating a hearty breakfast before work, packing snacks and/or lunch, and making your own coffee. This keeps you from indulging in oversized portions when dining out and also saves money!
  • Move around during the day-ask your company to invest in standing desks, take brief walks during break time, do some yoga stretches in between meetings, use lunch hour to go to the gym, and walk to coworkers desks to talk instead of using the phone or email. 
  • Do some research on good posture/sitting positions and start using them!

The main side effect that I experience from extended sitting has been neck and back pain. It was so bad that several years ago I found myself in physical therapy. I discovered that it was most likely my chair that was the source of my problems, and I solved that issue by making an expensive investment in an ergonomic office chair. That was about 3 years ago and I"m happy to say that the investment has paid off! While I am not 100% without pain, I would certainly say that it's made a significant difference in supporting my sitting body for hours upon hours a day. I have explored a few other alternative options to help with pain management and have a few more that I can't wait to investigate! 

ALTERNATIVE TREATMENTS FOR NECK & BACK PAIN

CranioSacral Therapy (CST)

I tried this treatment recently, mostly because I had a friend who raved about it. My son also received CST as an baby due to fluid in his ears. At that time, I had done a little bit of research on the topic and found that this type of treatment can be useful for many conditions, including:

  • Migraines and Headaches
  • Chronic Neck and Back Pain
  • Autism
  • Stress and Tension-Related Disorders
  • Motor-Coordination Impairments
  • Brain and Spinal Cord Injuries
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Fibromyalgia
  • TMJ Syndrome
  • Scoliosis
  • Central Nervous System Disorders
  • Learning Disabilities
  • ADD/ADHD
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Orthopedic Problems

CranioSacral Therapy is a gentle, hands-on approach that releases tensions deep in the body to relieve pain and dysfunction and improve whole-body health and performance. It was pioneered and developed by Osteopathic Physician John E. Upledger. The practitioner uses a soft touch to release restrictions in the soft tissues that surround the central nervous system. 

The session reminded me of reiki in the way that the touch is soft and reassuring and the gentleness of the procedure allowed me to be more in touch with any changes I was feeling in my body. With a massage you are a passive receiver, the touch is pressured and direct and the intent is to mold the muscles. With other light touch therapies, it feels more like a back and forth relationship where you participate with the practitioner. Because there is little pressure, the client has to pay more attention to the differences the treatment provides in the moment because it isn't as obvious as a muscle being worked on. While I was receiving CST, I felt as if I could hear and feel fluid being released by her movements on my head and body. It was a tiny warm, fluttering swooshing-that is the best way I can describe it. The whole experience was very calming and relaxing. The results, although quite subtle, were positive. Again, I wasn't completely pain free but I felt more looseness in my neck and shoulders and felt a stronger sense of balance. 

Integrated Positional Therapy-

A second treatment that I explored is known as Integrated Positional Therapy (IPT), which was developed by neuromuscular therapist Lee Albert. IPT is based on the research of osteopathic physician Dr. Lawrence Jones and incorporates techniques such as Strain/Counterstrain, Muscle Energy Technique, stretching and home care to re-align the body’s structure and relieve pain caused by structural imbalances. IPT effectively treats pain patterns caused by injury, stress, repetitive strain, postural distortion and chronic neuromuscular conditions. The key method of treatment with IPT lies in getting the pelvis, “the foundation” of the body, in perfect alignment.

The session began with a postural assessment. The practitioner asked me to lie down on a massage table and he quickly noticed that a few things on my body were out of alignment. The actual treatment itself is quite simple: the practitioner places your "out of whack" muscle groupin a position of comfort/passively shortening the muscle for 90 seconds (Strain/Counterstrain) and assisted stretching using active isometric contractions (Muscle Energy Techqniue).  IPT achieves its benefits by means of an automatic resetting of muscle spindles.  The results is often immediate and long lasting. The actual resetting of my various muscle groups took about 30 minutes, the rest of the time was spend educating me on how to use the at-home exercises and why they are worth doing on a regular basis. The idea behind IPT is that a person can keep themselves strain and pain-free by regularly completing the recommended exercises at home. 

There are also recommendations for things to change about the way people live their lives, for example, adding a pillow placed in the lumbar curve just above the hip bones while driving. This contributes to good posture and alleviates neck and back pain. Also ,when driving, forgo the 10 and 2 position and use the 4 and 8 position, which keeps your hands in a resting instead of tensing position. When sitting at your desk, keep your elbows by your side and arms bent about 90 degrees. Also, sit with your feet slightly turned in which will take strain off the low back and knees. 

The at-home exercises are simple and Dr. Albert even gave me a copy with pictures so I can practice at home and at work. They are quick enough that I can do them in between sessions, along with my quick stretches, bathroom break, water-drinking, snack-eating and brief walking (sure, that will all happen...). Ok, maybe I will pick one or two to try between sessions and mix them all up together throughout the day. 

Massage Therapy-

 Massage is something I have used in the past as regular maintenance/preventative treatment and also something that I indulge in from time to time when the pain is unmanageable. Lately, I have begun using it again as a regular preventative treatment approach. It's part of my arsenal of pain tools. The chair is the root of the problem, and I have fixed that. Even though I have the best chair, I still am using it for more than a healthy amount and therefore, I still suffer from occasional back and neck pain. Massage helps me deal with chronic muscle tension buildup and also allows me to receive a few moments a month when self-care is my priority. A monthly scheduled massage appointment reminds me that my health and comfort are important and worth it. By taking care of myself through massage, I am in less pain, which in turn makes me a better therapist and at home, a better parent and partner. Since Dharma Healing moved out of my office building last year, I have switched to Massage Envy. I use both the Cranston and East Providence locations, which are convenience to my home and office. The monthly membership is $59.99 per month, which is a savings of about $20 per session. Massage Envy also offers facials and a variety of enhancements on their massage sessions, including aromatherapy, deep muscle therapy, and foot scrubs. They have many different massage offerings, including relaxation massage, deep tissue massage, hot stone, trigger point massage, prenatal massage, and craniosacral therapy. I have tried many of their practitioners and all of them have been good. There have been a few that have stood out and some that were underwhelming but overall, monthly massage has been a good investment of my time and money.

OVERALL

If you love your job (like me!) and don't want to quit but need to make some changes in order to keep your sedentary job from getting the best of you, here are a few tips:

  • Address your seat first. Invest in an ergonomic chair if you can or ask your company for a better chair, standing desk, or whatever else they can do to improve your comfort.
  • Try to add increased movement to your day to combat all the sitting, as described above in the "free" section.
  • Incorporate some of the preventative wellness practices and at-home exercises for positional therapy. Using these techniques regularly can keep you from needing more repair types of treatment, such as massage, physical therapy, and chiropractic work. 
  • Make sure that you're active outside of work to make up for all that sitting! Join a gym, take yoga, go running, walk with friends, go hiking with your family, and/or play with your pets.
  • If you need some added help, go for a massage or try another type of body wellness treatment, such as CST or IPT. 

IDEAS FOR MY FUTURE EXPLORATION....

  • Thai Massage -Thai massage is combination of stretches and energy movement that opens joints, elongates muscles, and generally creates space in painful areas to bring relief, also referred to as  “The Lazy Man’s Yoga.” Sign me up!! Still researching this treatment and looking into a local place to try it out! 
  • Rolfing-A colleague tried this and said it was super helpful for her posture and overall wellness. These connective tissues surround, support and penetrate all of the muscles, bones, nerves and organs. Rolfing works on the fascia, which are the body's connective tissues. This treatment aims to release, realign, and balance the whole body, thus potentially resolving discomfort, reducing compensations and alleviating pain. Sounds good to me! The only downside of this treatment is the cost. Treatment typically consists of 10 sessions, each session having an important part of the whole healing process. Because of the time commitment, rolfing is usually an expensive process. 
Marisa Etting