By Todd Bowen 

re·pet·i·tive strain in·ju·ry – a condition in which the prolonged performance of repetitive actions, causes pain or impairment of function in the tendons and muscles involved (definition credit: Google)

Many people talk about how sitting for long periods of time causes many different injuries (heart problems, joint pain, weight gain, skeletal alignment issues, headaches, etc etc). However, notice how the above definition for repetitive strain injury only contains 2 body parts: tendons and muscles. When it comes down to it, the health of our muscles and tendons is where we need to put our ergonomic focus.

When I say improve the “health” of our muscles and tendons, this doesn’t mean go and overtrain in the gym. It doesn’t mean doing heavy squats or going for a long run. If your posture and form is poor when you squat or run, it’s just going to make things worse. It will multiply your problems caused by sitting at a computer desk.

What I mean by “improving the health of your muscles and tendons” is this…we need to take a balanced approach to improving the blood circulation throughout them. The older we get, the less blood circulates throughout our muscles and tendons. This causes muscles and tendons to become unhealthier (tighter, less responsive, and less flexible) over time.

What is a repetitive strain injury?

By sitting at a computer desk 40+ hours per week, that means we sit over 2,000 hours per year in the same stagnant position. Repetitive strain and overuse injuries are a major problem for us. Repetitive strain means holding certain body parts in the exact same position for a long period of time. Overuse means a movement done over and over and over again throughout each day (clicking a mouse, for example).

In addition to repetitive strain and overuse, DO NOT make these 5 common mistakes I used to make when I had a desk job. They will make your repetitive strain injuries worse.

  1. Drinking too much caffeine – Caffeine dehydrates your muscles. When your muscles get dehydrated, they get tighter quicker and become less flexible. Doing this everyday becomes a terrible habit quickly and has a direct negative effect on your sitting posture.
  2. Not drinking enough water – Whether we are drinking caffeine or not, we still need water. If we drink caffeine at our desk, we should add at least one extra glass of water per day (if not more).
  3. Too many reps and lifting too much weight in the gym (overtraining) – People love the misconception that overtraining give us. The burning in our muscles, the soreness, and the heavy breathing provide immediate gratification. It makes us feel like we’ve accomplished as much as we possibly could. Capacity-wise, that may be true. But efficiency-wise, that’s not the case. As I’ve gotten older (into my early 40’s), I’d rather do lighter weight 3 days a week as opposed to heavier weight only once or twice a week (because our muscles get sore and recovery time is longer when lifting heavier weights). I’d rather get in more capacity for the whole week with lighter weight, compared to get in more capacity for a single day with the heavier weight. Lifting lighter weights with good form makes me feel pain-free and energetic when I wake up in the morning. That correlates directly to having better sitting posture for me.
  4. Bad form lifting weights or running – If your posture and form is poor when you lift or run, you’re going to overwork some muscles and underwork others. This will make your computer posture exponentially worse.
  5. Eating nutrition-less foods – The effect this has on your posture is very similar to not drinking enough water. Your muscles need nutrients and minerals that are found in real, organic, high-quality food. Think of it as fuel, not food.

All 5 of those bad habits caused me to have an increase of repetitive strain injuries. They are all somewhat defensive approaches and they are a step in the right direction. But in order to really decrease pain caused by repetitive strain and overuse, let’s take a look at some proactive approaches as well.

There are many different healthy approaches to take in order to reduce the pain of repetitive strain injuries. In my opinion, none of them is any less important than the other. If you want to improve your quality of life and decrease your pain caused by sitting at a desk, you must take an aggressive approach to your sitting ergonomics, not just your sitting posture. Ergonomics basically means paying attention to how efficient a person is in their work environment, then always being conscious about improving their efficiency. Posture is only one aspect of ergonomics.

What is a repetitive strain injury?

Even someone with incredible posture will still be in pain if they sit in the same position for the whole work day. They won’t be in as much pain as someone with bad posture, but the good posture users will still be in pain from repetitive strain.

Here’s a Sitting Ergonomics Formula that’s made up of 7 different components. This formula is crucial in order to design a healthy sedentary lifestyle for yourself.

Get familiar with these good habits of my Sitting Ergonomics Formula:

  1. Body Awareness – The first step to solving our sitting posture problem is being conscious enough to realize what we are doing wrong. The second step is to learn the process that we need to do right.
  2. Sleep Quality – I sleep between 7 and 9 hours per night. I also sleep in a completely dark room (blinds over the windows plus drapes over the blinds). And I know it’s tough, but I don’t sleep with my smartphone within arm’s reach of the bed. My mental clarity improved greatly when I implemented these 3 small habits. When my mental clarity increased, it had a direct improvement on my posture.
  3. Breathing – The way we breathe plays a huge part in how good (or bad) our posture is. It doesn’t matter if we’re sitting, standing, moving, running, or even laying down. Click here to read about a technique that will help you improve both your breathing efficiency and your posture.
  4. Nutrition – Eat real, organic, high-quality foods. Maybe not all of the time, but definitely most of the time. You aren’t eating simply to satisfy your stomach. You are eating to fuel your muscles and your brain. The quality level of the fuel you put in your body is the quality level of performance you will get out of it.
  5. Hydration – I drink about half my body weight in ounces per day. I also drink water that’s filtered through reverse osmosis. The good news about reverse osmosis is that the water goes through an intense multi-layered filtration process that gets out all of the impurities in the water. The bad news is that it also filters out the healthy minerals that our body desperately needs. To work around this, I add liquid trace minerals to my water. And if I don’t have a bottle of trace minerals, I’ll at least add a pinch of ground up himalayan sea salt to my water instead.
  6. Healing – I separate healing into 2 categories, self-healing and professional healing. Self-healing can be foam rolling, inversion therapy, yoga, and using a percussion massager just to name a few. Professional healing is practices such as acupuncture, chiropractic, cryotherapy, physical therapy, etc.
  7. Posture – Finally, we get to talk about the elephant in the room. Computer posture is much more complex than just “sitting up straight”. To break it down as clearly as possible, here’s a Computer Posture Checklist. After downloading your checklist (PDF file), you can print it out and then post it up at your desk as a daily reference tool. The checklist steps are broken down into an easy to remember 14 step process (that’s also easy to implement).

About the author:

Todd Bowen, is a lifelong athlete, former desk jockey, and a Certified Posture Specialist (CPS). Todd is passionate and obsessive about living a healthy sitting lifestyle, and addicted to high human performance, good posture, and helping people improve their quality of life. Visit www.sittingposture.com for more information.