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Perilous Postures

Sitting at work for long hours may affect body muscles. Here is what you can do to ward off long-term ill effects.

If you are working eight hours a day, five days a week (assuming you take a complete break during weekends, which is quite unlikely), you end up sitting at your office desk 2,100 hours a year. And during those hours, how you sit will most certainly impact your wellbeing. When the posture is not right, you will end up overusing some muscles and underusing others, thus causing muscle inefficiency. It may start with some nagging syndromes such as lower back pain, pain in the legs or a feeling of numbness, but could have severe consequences if not dealt with early and conclusively, warns Shruti Bangera, Senior Subject Matter Expert in Physiotherapy at Portea, a leading provider of home healthcare services. If untreated, such conditions may lead to kyphosis, an upper back hump, or scoliosis, the sideways bending of the spine. New research shows some back pains could be linked to the sacroiliac (SI) joint where the spine ends and the hip begins.

Pains and aches could also be muscle- and nerve-related. Bangera says sitting for long hours could lead to shortening and tightening of certain leg muscles such as the hamstring muscles, the quadriceps and the calf muscles. The sciatic nerve (the largest single nerve in the body that runs from each side of the lower spine and goes all the way to the foot) and other major nerves, could also get compressed and cause radiating pain in the legs. A more recent discovery is the dead butt syndrome or gluteal amnesia where muscles in the buttocks forget how to activate themselves because of wrong postures and tightening of the muscles.

Working on a PC for long hours could also cause carpal tunnel syndrome - pain and numbness in hands and arms due to constant pressure on the wrist joint and the subsequent compression of nerves.

So, what is the way out? Avoid sitting at your desk for long hours. If you are on a long-haul flight, make sure you are not sitting in the same position for long. Get up, walk a little and do some simple stretching. Most importantly, says Bangera, "Listen to your body if you have an ache or pain. Get it diagnosed instead of taking up yoga or Zumba. You need a zero-pain body before you can try those."

Workplace Ergonomics

Organisations today are mostly technology-driven, but they need to look at how their people are faring in such environments and focus on office ergonomics. In fact, ergonomics and its implications on the body are gaining importance as an area of study in physiotherapy. There are broadly two seating concepts. One is the kneeling chair concept, or the Balans, developed in the 1970s, and the other is the conventional seating or Mandal seating, attributed to Danish surgeon A.C. Mandal. Also, research is on to dispel the notion that standing is better than sitting. Standing for long hours could be bad for the spine as it can cause the pelvis to rotate forward. It may lead to lumbar lordosis, an inward curving in the lower spine region and a bend towards the abdomen, which can affect one's movement, say experts like Bangera.