I don't know why I haven't wrote about this, I am a chiropractor after all. Glenn Reynolds talks about the need to protect your spine using computers, especially notebooks. Here are some general thoughts, in no particular order.
- It is nearly impossible to sit ergonomically in bed with your lap-top on your lap. Trust me, I've tried. Here's a solution: sit in a comfortable chair and use this computer caddy, if you want to watch TV. Or, if you must, the caddy can also fit over your bed. Make sure your lumbar spine is very supported. The computer caddy has the added benefit of being able to hold a book and a drink or snack.
- Stay hydrated. Over the course of the day, the spine compresses and the intersegmental discs lose water and height. This changes the optimum spine curvature and increases load bearing on specific joints.
- When working out, do exercises that increase core strength. Yoga and Pilates, especially, are very good at this. The muscles to strengthen: abdominals, rhomboids, lats, posterior delts, hamstrings and glutials. Stretch the abdominals as well as strengthen them. This is a fantastic exercise, great for relaxation, too, that you can do at work.
- When working out, stretch these muscles: quads, pects (very important), internal rotators of the shoulder, wrist flexors and extensors, wrist supinators and pronators. There are specific exercises at the links. For the supinators and pronators, you'll need to modify the flexor/extensor exercises by rotating your wrists while maintaining flexor and/or extensor pressure. This will make sense when you look at the pictures.
- A big problem with prolonged computer use is forward head carriage. This is a posture where your neck or cervical curvature, is lost, the chin juts forward and the upper thoracic spine has a hyperkyphosis. Stretching pects, supporting the lumbar spine and having the computer at the proper level is essential. If you are hunching over your laptop, stop! The long-term damage can mean peripheral nerve damage into the forearms and hands--numbness, tingling, pain and eventually paralysis. An easy stretch is to tuck your chin, and place your hands the crown of the head and gently press your head down, to the left and to the right using your opposite hand.
- Get some whole body movement--swimming is fantastic because you're forced to use back muscles that get forgotten during computer use. Stretch out and do the back stroke. This swim style uses the exact opposite muscles that are repetitively strained during computer use and will help balance the body. Not to mention, your lungs will get opened up and worked out--an added benefit.
- Consider standing. Some laptop stands can be extended to standing height. This can really relieve the stress on your back and neck. Those with lumbar disc herniations should seriously consider this option because sitting puts more load on the lumbar spine than standing or laying down (on your back--don't lay on your stomach!). A cheaper alternative is to stand in the kitchen at the bar, if you have one. The problem is that the screen is lower than eye height, forcing the neck into flexion and pushing the arms out in front of the body. This is not a great long-term solution, but it is a way to have the body in another position besides sitting.
Sarah Felicity has more recommendations. Her advice to get a good chair is worth noting. We use the Aeron chair both at home and the office and love it. Your butt breathes and you can adjust the chair to perfectly suit your size. If you live in Houston, email me, I have a connection to get them at a fraction of the price.
Oh! I almost forgot! How can I be a chiropractor and not recommend chiropractic? When you get in back trouble, look up a chiropractor who is trained in Applied Kinesiology. They are the best and brightest and specialize in balancing the musculature as well as the skeletal system.
Back injury is the #2 reason people miss work (#1 is the common cold). It is not worthy fooling around with a messed up spine.
More here on back injuries. More here on repetitive stress injuries.
One final note: People who enjoy their job (say those who pull on these all day) have far fewer RSIs. Stressed people are more likely to be injured (this holds more for women.)
Update: Thanks to Glenn for the link. Also, thanks for the idea. Sheesh! Some things are so obvious....