Over the past few articles we have been discussing all of the dynamic and challenging positions in which those of us in public safety are forced to work. There are just certain aspects of this job that we can not change. But we can work on changing our bodies so that those poor positions we are forced to work in are less traumatic on our bodies. I will continue to provide examples of station friendly stretches for the next few articles, but it is time to talk about the things we do every day that set us up for postural traumas.
Every day that we drive, sit in front of the computer, run calls, play video games and watch TV we are in a flexed position that forces our head, shoulders, sternum and torso to round forward. As we have discussed, these repetitive and chronic postural positions cause many of the aches, pains and injuries that we all will have to deal with. Being aware of these faulty positions and trying to correct for them makes a huge difference in how we feel and preventing future dysfunction.
As I have stated over the last few columns, our job allows us an unending opportunity to exercise with a vast amount of time, floor space and objects to stretch and exercise on. Unfortunately, our society and especially our co-workers are generally not open to exercising. I am often mocked and stared at when on duty I perform some simple stretches to ease the aching in my back and the tightness in my neck. Most just look on in wonder and the few that ask what I am doing appear uninterested because it is not cool or generally accepted in most stations to exercise or stretch. Rest assured that you will not only feel better, but your co-workers will eventually catch on.
Ergonomists generally agree that there isn't a single static seated posture that should be used all of the time. It is a good idea to move around into different postures throughout the day to improve circulation and reduce muscle fatigue. If you do sit for long periods, these tips will help reduce strain on your body:
- Make certain that your head is balanced. Tilting the head back or too far forward for extended periods will put strain on the neck. Be diligent to avoid extended forward head postures.
- Upper arms should be close to the body and relaxed. Not tensed, out to the side, or flexed forward/rounded. Avoid the common stress postures of shrugging the shoulders and leaning forward.
- Wrists should be level with forearms when typing. A slight deviation is OK.
- Make sure the armrests don't interfere with arm movements. If they do, lower them out of the way.
- Make sure your feet rest comfortably on the floor or a solid surface. If you do not have an adjustable chair, make sure to provide a footrest. Never have your feet bent back underneath you. This places additional strain on the knees, forces your torso and head forward.
- Be sure that your feet rest ahead of the knees Also, note that the seat cushion isn't compressing the backs of your knees.
There are many things that can be done to minimize the negative postural effects of driving. Properly adjust the seat so you can sit with your knees level with your hips. You can either use a rolled up towel or a commercial back support in the seat behind you for more comfort. Sit as close to the steering wheel as you can and feel safe. Reaching increases the pressure on the lumbar spine and can stress your neck, shoulder and wrist.
Proper grip on the wheel is important as well. Avoid sitting back too far -- slide the seat up a little farther so the knees are slightly bent. Avoid gripping the wheel tightly and never hold the top of the wheel, as this forces you to lean forward and to shrug the shoulders.
Hands-free phones go without saying, for better head position and less neck strain, along with added safety and fewer distractions while driving (just not while running calls).
Upper Back and Latissimus Stretch
Sets: 2 per side
Rest Period: 30-60 sec.
Hold Times: 30-60 sec.
Times Per Day: 2-3
- Grasp a handle (sink, pole, railing, tree, etc.)
- Slowly lean back and lower your butt, bending from the hips until a stretch is felt.
- This is a great stretch for the lats, upper back, shoulders, lower back and hamstrings. (hamstring stretch requires straighter legs)
- Moving feet closer and changing your torso angle will change the location of the stretch in the back.
- Perform with one arm.