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A Pain In The Neck

A physiotherapist’s view on the importance of good posture

With the rise in desk-based jobs and digital dependence, our posture often falls victim to the demands of the workplace. A sedentary lifestyle, prolonged hours hunched over screens and poor sitting positions have led to a significant increase in back and neck problems among working professionals. As an extended-scope practitioner, I am deeply invested in addressing these issues and recommending preventative measures to help prevent long-term ramifications.

According to a Health and Safety Executive study, musculoskeletal disorders, including neck and back pain, accounted for approximately 6.9 million lost working days in the UK last year; this represents a staggering 23.7 per cent of all work-related illness cases. This not only translates to a huge loss in productivity but also exerts a financial burden on businesses and the economy. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence estimates that back pain and accompanying musculoskeletal disorders cost nearly £10 billion annually. This includes direct healthcare costs and indirect outlays related to absenteeism, reduced work performance and increased staff turnover. These statistics underline the need for preventative ergonomic interventions and proactive posture-management strategies.

The human head weighs 7kg – 8kg, but when we lean our head in front of our shoulders, the strain is as if it weighed 27kg to 29kg.

There is a vast amount of medical literature documenting the negative impact of poor posture on spinal health. Prolonged slouches and poor ergonomic positions can lead to many issues, including cervical spondylosis, lumbar strain and thoracic outlet syndrome. A study published in the American Journal of Pain Management suggests that improper posture can significantly increase the pressure on spinal discs, leading to degeneration and, in some cases, chronic pain. Furthermore, a 2020 analysis in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science revealed that posture is closely linked to muscle imbalances and flexibility deficits, resulting in myofascial pain and nerve-root irritation.

The ramifications and cumulative effects of neglecting posture often manifest in chronic disorders that can severely impede one’s quality of life. Other journals have looked at long-term studies, and the effects associated with poor postural positions can lead to complications of the neck and lower back, including headaches and sciatica.

“Sitting is like and endurance sport. […] there is more pressure exerted through our discs while seating than while standing.”

             – Stephen Garvey

Despite all this, the management of postural issues requires a multifaceted approach encompassing ergonomic adjustments, exercises and physiotherapy. In large organisations, lower back pain is one of the biggest time-loss injuries – hence a rising trend for standing desks. Studies have shown that there is more pressure exerted through our discs while sitting than while standing. So if you feel your ergonomic position at work is a problem, you should discuss it with your employer or human resources department.

Prolonged periods of sitting in front of a screen can be challenging for our musculoskeletal system and lead to painful disorders. Strategies for breaking the cycle include taking hourly breaks to minimise the buildup of pressure on the back and musculature. Simply standing up or walking around is a good start. The analogy I use with my patients is that sitting is like an endurance sport.

One of the most powerful factors in preventing back pain is exercise. According to the Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation, engaging in regular physical activity – in particular, exercises of the neck and spinal musculature – can help strengthen the spine, providing structural support and averting the onset of debilitating conditions.

Yoga offers a gentle approach to strengthening the back and the core, both essential to a healthy spine.

At my clinic, Physio on the Green, we believe in a tailored approach to posture management, emphasising ergonomic assessment, specific exercises and manual therapy techniques. We use evidence-based intervention to inform our treatment choices, which may include Addison’s Technique and McKenzie’s methodology alongside myofascial release techniques. All have been proven to alleviate pain and improve spinal alignment. Furthermore, physiotherapists can help identify these postural issues and recommend a program to rectify them before they become long-term.

Embracing a proactive approach to posture management, as well as integrating interventions and ergonomic mindfulness, can help us maintain our well-being and sustain peak performance during our professional lives.

Words: Stephen Garvey

Stephen Garvey is a physiotherapist and Director of Physio on the Green in London. You can find out more about his practice or book an appointment, HERE.

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