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4 Ways to Avoid Neck and Back Discomfort

Everyone likes to be in a comfortable position that makes work or activity efficient and comfortable. But sometimes the positions we put our bodies in can cause discomfort and even pain. (If you’ve ever sat at a computer for any length in time, you’ve certainly experienced neck or back discomfort.)

Ergonomics refers to the body and its relationship to the environment in which it must work. You can use the principles of ergonomics to make changes that let you avoid discomfort.

Improve your posture

Moving an object or lifting weights when you have poor posture can lead to significant injury because joints must be in an appropriate position to accommodate the forces placed upon them. To improve your posture

  • Avoid sitting for long periods of time. The curvature of your spine is meant to decrease the stresses placed on your back. Sitting straightens this curvature and, as a result, creates more stress.

  • Don’t hunch over or slouch. Leaning to one side or another or hunching over not only causes extra stress on the spine but also affects the muscles (shortening those on one side while stretching those on the other side).

Your muscles work best when they are positioned as they are meant to be: in a standing, upright position.

Avoid repetitive stress

When your body must complete a task over and over again, the constant repetition can put undue stress on your joints, cartilage, and soft tissue, leading to problems down the line. You can reduce these negative forces by doing the following:

  • Putting your body in a better position to perform the task: Evaluate your position to see what stresses it puts on your body and then make adjustments as necessary. When you’re at your desk, for example, look at how you’re sitting: how far do you have to turn your head when you type and how far do you have to reach to get to the keyboard? Make sure you can perform these tasks within a normal upright posture. Same with lifting a heavy box. Don’t bend your back — keep it straight and use your legs to lift the box.

  • Changing how the task is done: As an athlete or a physically active person, change up your workout routine. Don’t do the same exercise every day. You can add different exercises or just change directions. For example, many tracksters change the direction they run around the track during practice to distribute forces over time to both sides.

  • Giving yourself time to recover: Repetitively doing something fatigues your body. Fortunately, the body has a wonderful ability to recover and heal itself — but only if you give it time to do so.

    If you don’t give your body time to rest and recover, it begins to break down, and injury may result.

Strengthen joints and muscles

Stronger muscles are better able to protect your joints. Training your muscles improves the speed of your reflexes, which can help you avoid injury. If your muscles can react quickly enough, they may be able to stop or minimize a big force that, if left unchecked, could result in injury.

Improve flexibility

To function well, muscles need to be able to reach 110 percent of their resting length to generate the force that they need. However, some joints can’t move through their full motion because the muscles are too tight. Sometimes the problem stems from injury; other times, the problem is a muscle spasm. The key to helping your muscles maintain stability and improve their function is to maximize muscle length. Try these exercises:

  • Static stretching: An example of static stretching is sitting on the ground and reaching out over your toes. This stretches your hamstrings. Often low back pain is attributed to hamstring tightness.

  • Dynamic stretching: Dynamic stretching involves slowing moving your limbs through a specific pattern of movements to stretch out the muscles involved with the upcoming event.

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