601.434.1991 mary@backcoach.net

Standing is the New Sitting

man standing at adjustable-height desk

There’s nothing like a catchy slogan to succinctly convey a complex concept, and “Sitting is the New Smoking” has done just that. More meaningful than the original “<Blank> is the New Black”, it’s become evident over years of research that the ease of information creation and flow brought about by technology has come at a cost to our overall health.

Prolonged sitting has been associated with pronounced increases in obesity, metabolic syndrome, and death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Further, early research is showing that even regular exercise does little to counteract the effects of too many hours spent in a chair.

The good news is that there are many ways to make big changes in the amount of time you spend sitting each day, both at work and after hours, leading not only to reducing your health risk, but gaining improvements in creativity, focus, and energy. (more…)

Vacation is good for your back

Vacations are good for back pain

If you’re looking for a reason to go on a vacation this year, add this one to the list: it’s good for your back.

Why is vacation good for your back? Because it addresses three of the reasons that your back hurts.

First, one of the most significant contributors to back pain is stress. And not the type of stress that is a major event that causes a big stress response and demands some type of response. No, the way that stress leads to back pain is those daily pain-in-the-neck stressors like commuting to work, getting both you and the family out of the house in a timely manner day after day, or dealing with the daily frustrations of the workplace.


Why vision is such an important part of ergonomics

Woman trying to see computer

You’ve probably heard or noticed that working on a computer for a prolonged period of time can be hard on your eyes. You may notice symptoms such as burning, tightness, pain, watering, blurring, double vision, or headaches. These symptoms can vary from person to person, and are collectively referred to as Computer Vision Syndrome.

However, viewing your computer screen for prolonged periods of time can also contribute to back and neck pain for one simple reason: your body will follow your eyes. In other words, if you can’t see, you will move your body until you can, by bending forward, rounding your shoulders, or moving your head forward. All of these movements put your body into an unbalanced position, which leads to muscles that are tight and shortened, or stretched and lengthened, joints that don’t function well because the bones aren’t oriented properly, or compressed spinal discs.

Even a well-designed computer work area loses its effectiveness if you can’t see the monitor. (more…)

Does tightening abdominals relieve or contribute to back pain?

The ‘core movement’ has repeatedly touted that the best way to ‘protect’ your back is to have a strong core and to regularly tighten your abdominal muscles in everyday activities. Yet, like many generally-accepted theories, it may be time to take a closer look at this approach and consider any unintended consequences.

As a Professional Ergonomist, I was taught that tightening the abdominals, lightly, would ‘protect’ the back. This was taught to me, it seemed to make sense, and I in turn taught this concept as a part of many training sessions. I recall teaching hospital transport workers to lightly tighten their abdominals when pushing a patient in a wheelchair or bed, in this accepted strategy to reduce injury rates among staff.

It wasn’t until I read a remarkable book by Kathleen Porter entitled Ageless Spine, Lasting Health that I began to question this widely accepted concept. Ms. Porter, whose background is in yoga, shared the work introduced earlier by Noelle Perez of the Institute D’Aplomb in Paris, France, and in it shared an alternate approach. The book theorizes that, sometime around the 1920s with the introduction of ‘flappers’ and continuing to this day, we modeled imbalanced postures and now face a wide range of musculoskeletal problems as a result.

The idea that tightening the abdominals would actually introduce risk to the back is an intriguing one – that when you tighten your abs, or, specifically, your rectus abdominus, several mechanical consequences result.

  • First, when you shorten the distance between the rib cage (origin) and the pelvis (insertion) as you do when you engage your rectus abdominus, compression of the spine results. In addition, this compression is not through the central axis of the spine, so it will also result in a torque about the spinal discs. Spinal compression will occur to a greater extent in the anterior portion of the disc.
  • Second, breathing is affected as the rib cage is pulled down and the lungs are not allowed to fully expand. Interestingly, this also causes the muscles of the back of the neck to contract in response, often resulting in neck pain or headaches. (Try this the next time you have a headache: take a breath, and as you exhale, consciously relax your abdominals. In many cases, your headache will go away!)
  • Third, the front of the pelvis is pulled upward, resulting in posterior tilt. In this pelvic orientation, the spine no longer rests on the sacral shelf in a balanced manner and will need to compensate for this imbalance with excessive curvature.


It can take quite a bit of time – from 6-12 months is common -and a consistent effort to “unlearn’ tightening your abdominals, but in my opinion it is well worth it in improved comfort and ease of movement.


A new view of ergonomics and back pain

While redesigning a work area or modifying workstation layout or equipment is an important aspect of ergonomics, a greater emphasis should be placed on teaching people how to balance their postures as a primary strategy.

Ergonomics is the study of work, most simply, and in more detail it examines the interaction between the human body and its physical environment. This approach is most commonly applied in a work setting such as a computer workstation, clinical setting or in a manufacturing environment. (more…)