Summer vacation is over but that doesn't mean you have to stop being active (assuming you were). Stop yourself from creating those chain links to your desk. You know the chain links called, "It just got so busy" or "I lost track of time", and the oldie but goodie “I don’t have time to…” These are all just by products of what I define as habitual behavior.
We live our lives with a series of learned behaviors. Literal reflex reactions developed from the moment we’re born. There are numerous things in our life that will shape our reflex reactions. Reflex reactions we form from the fight or flight response.
This is the response the body instinctively makes in reaction to danger. The instant we sense a feeling of danger we can either defend or runway from the source of this sensation. The fight or flight response can be complicated or simple. Simple is the reaction to step out of the way of a car speeding down a busy intersection. Complex can be the advanced amount of planning and body awareness it takes to say that car is way too far, and even at the high speed its traveling, I can still make it across that street. (This is not an endorsement to jaywalk or run toward an oncoming car).
Over time you have likely learned that running into a busy intersection is bad so most of us think to avoid that scenario. We think danger equals potential for bodily harm, which means pain, which leads to the thought, “Let’s not do that.” The likely reason for this habitual response is the potential for massive pain. However, the habitual behavior stemming from fight or flight does ring in our ears loud enough when it comes to slow potential for injury and pain.
If every time you sat down at your desk you got a shooting searing pain, you would likely never sit. If every time you stood you had an intense throbbing of your back, you probably wouldn’t stand. But, the problem is pain from these activities happen over a long period or time, hourse, weeks, years can build up to severe back pain. The key to preventing back pain from the sedentary life of a desk job is relating intense pain with sitting for long periods of time and then stopping that habitual behavior before it happens. This will not only allow you reduce the stress on your back but it will also likely improve the tolerance to sit for a longer period of time when there’s no other option (ex: Stuck in traffic in a car, going on a long flight, sitting to watch a movie or a play).
Changing habitual behavior starts with creating cues, signals to remind you to stop that behavior. Setting up phone and/or computer reminders to 30min intervals helps us remember to get up, walk a bit, stretch, and then get back to work. If this has the potential for being too distracting to co-workers then instead of actually getting up just adjust your posture, stretch at your desk and then return to your task. Every 60mins you should get up. Ideally we should have a fairly even mix of standing and sitting throughout our work day, this includes our commute. (Read more about the dangers of sitting)
For the stay at home parent who may not be tied to a desk but instead tied to the couch, steering wheel, stove, laundry room, etc. The problem is not the fight or flight response to sitting and high level pain. Instead its equating your repeated motions, with poor body mechanics, to high level pain. It can be argued that the stay at home busy parent is just as much at risk for back pain than the desk jockey adult. For this type of lifestyle, it’s important to learn how to move better and repeat that movement well with your daily tasks. Here you are stopping the habitual behavior of poor body mechanics before you do them again. In no particular order I list these repeated movements as important things to master. Standing, sitting, sit to stand, going up and down stairs, lifting/carrying objects with sit to stand or stairs tasks. Mastering those movements well will allow you to move into multiple other scenarios throughout your day. Can a desk job parent benefit from the same training? Absolutely, but the fight or flight response stimulus is different for the stay at home parent. The stay at home parent should equate pain to the inability to get any of the tasks done daily including sitting.
Overall to prevent pain we need to begin to create new habitual behaviors, which means we need to learn how to create new reflex patterns for the fight or flight responses. Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting videos and blog posts about stretching, self-massage, core strengthening and just plain how to move better with daily activities.
Please share this post with anyone you can think of that complains about back pain or is at risk for back pain. Comments and questions are always welcomed. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com to come into AltaPT in NYC for a full physical therapy evaluation and see how we can help change the way you use your body.