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When it Hurts to Use a PC

Your friends and co-workers may tell you they're jealous that you have a cushy desk job, but the truth is that having a desk job using a computer day is no walk in the park. In fact, a walk in the park would be much less harmful on your body that having to freeze your body into the sitting posture while you type away. A desk job often leads to injury, headaches and potentially years of chronic pain.

What's the problem? Our bodies were mean to movie...we are motion machines. And to keep your machine in the same position...well, as the saying goes, sitting is the new smoking. Since our body is your willing servant and eventually transforms into the positions you ask, the powerful hip flexor muscles eventually adapt to a shortened length, typically a cause of back pain. So while the powerful hip muscles get a vacation in Cobo, your upper back muscles are continually working as you type and have to hold up your head. Things wouldn't be so bad if you held your head directly on top of your shoulders, but eventually your head moves forward as you look more closely at the screen. And since your head weighs as much as a bowling ball, your overworked upper back muscles get stressed and tighter, causing neck and perhaps shoulder issues.

From then on, imbalances throughout the body manifest themselves in a myriad of ways. Sue down the hall may have knee pain and may have been told she needs knee replacement surgery. Rick in Accounting may get headaches from a forward head position and need a cane as he moves into his 50s and 60s. Many desk users will become aware of the problem (how can they not?) and hit the gym, the basketball court, the tennis court, or other activities on weekend in an attempt to become more active. And that's great, but they will be bringing a body that's out of balance to the game, and risk an athletic injury that will keep them out of action.

NSAID's like Advil or Aleve may help you feel better, but that's the equivalent of snipping the wires of the fire alarm so you don't hear the noise. It does nothing to alleviate the problem. Surgery also does not solve the problem...only works on the symptom. The muscle misalignments and imbalances are still in place once the surgery and rehab is over.

But there is good news...lots of it. This story does not have to have a sad ending. The first step is to take frequent breaks at work, maybe once an hour, and get up and walk around. Take the stairs once in a while rather than the elevator. Alternate between standing and sitting for various tasks. Take some "walking" meetings rather than sit around a conference table.

Pete Egoscue was a Marine in Vietnam who took a bullet in combat and spent years study anatomy and figuring out how he could bring back the pain free, ease of motion body he once had. Eventually he succeeded and put those skills to a non-medical Pain Relief clinic in San Diego called "The Egoscue Method." He also wrote 6 books on the topic: "Pain Free," "Pain Free at the PC," "Pain Free for Women," and many more. Egoscue now has 24 clinics around the country, including Chicago, that evaluate where your posture has gone wrong and give you a personalized therapy menu to get your posture back.

In short, the good news is that you don't have to give up your desk job. You simply need to give your body a greater variety of movement so it's not dominated by one mode. Sitting puts your body in flexion - that condition whereby the joints move towards each other. What you need is to balance that flexion with the opposite, called "extension" - where the joints move away from each other. Giving your body that balance will enable it to move back to neutral at the end of the day and go a long way towards avoiding years of pain.

But the battle will never be over. There is no point when you're done and never have to work on your body posture again, because life will never run out of dysfunctional positions we need to be put in, such as driving, sitting in the theater, or riding on your bicycle. It's a never ending battle to get enough of the right movement and enable your body to stay in alignment, but it's also one battle that is definitely worth it.

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