Work Place Self Care by Julie Deignan MPT, LMT

Workplace Self-care

I’m going to assume we’ve all heard at this point that prolonged sitting isn’t doing our bodies any favors. According to a 2018 CDC report, 25% of Americans are sitting more than 8 hours per day, which can trigger a wide range of health problems.  A number of them can be attributed to this:  Slumped Posture (i.e. forward head, shoulders, and upper back)

I liken it to an epidemic, since I see it everywhere.  Commuters looking at their phones on the train, pedestrians walking down the street (even in their Lululemons after a workout that clearly didn’t do much to improve their posture), obviously the majority of people sitting at a computer, and worst of all, many kids walking to school wearing heavy backpacks.  It’s extremely rare that I have a patient, regardless of the symptoms they come in with, that doesn’t present with this posture.

Our head is meant to balance atop our spine.  For every inch our head deviates forward, it adds about an additional 10 pounds of torque to our cervical spines.  This overworks the muscles of our necks and upper backs, puts more pressure on inter-vertebral discs, compresses nerves and blood vessels, reduces lung capacity and the amount of oxygen reaching our brains (anyone experience “brain fog” or tension headaches during the day?).

The more time we spend in this position, the more our soft tissues conform to this new length, and the harder it becomes to stand up straight.  This throws off the bio-mechanics of several joints, including our shoulders.  It’s easy to demonstrate: sit up straight and lift your arms overhead (assuming you currently don’t have shoulder pain), then slump and try it again.  Shoulder range of motion is significantly decreased in slumped posture.  Not to mention the position of this ball and socket joint is altered and predisposed to impingement and potential injury during recreational activities or even activities of daily living that involve reaching overhead.

There are also psychological ramifications to slumped posture.  If you haven’t seen social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk on “Power Pose”, I highly recommend it.  In a nutshell, when we sit or stand in an expansive position that makes us look larger (she begins her talk standing in Wonder Woman’s famous pose) others perceive us as powerful and it reinforces a feeling of power in ourselves.  Conversely, when we position ourselves to look smaller (e.g. slouch, cross our arms and/or legs) others perceive us as weak and it reinforces a feeling of weakness in ourselves.  Combined with the anxiety and fatigue associated with shallow breathing, it’s no wonder our mood can take a dive during the workday.

So let’s talk about how to correct this!  First of all, we need to set up our workstation ergonomically.  The best lecture I’ve attended on this subject was at the Humanscale showroom (my recommendation for ergonomically designed office furniture).  Their diagram of how to utilize your equipment and position yourself is an excellent reference for all of us to have on hand:



Their ergonomist also recommends a 30 minute schedule for positional change.  It involves a desk that converts to standing, which I realize not everyone has yet.  If you do, the ratio of “Sit-Stand-Stretch” she recommends is 20-8-2.  If a standing desk isn’t an option, I recommend converting that to 28 minutes sitting and 2 minutes stretching (getting up from your desk and walking around also counts).

Here are the stretches and corrective exercises I recommend (each to be done for at least 30 seconds, so 3-4 per stretch break if you’re utilizing the recommended schedule):

Chin tucks:

Trunk extension:

Spinal twist:

Spinal sidebend:

Seated piriformis stretch:

Standing hip flexor stretch:

Scapular squeezes:


(If any of these stretches elicit pain or discomfort, please skip them and see your doctor or physical therapist for an assessment of your symptoms).

I also encourage my patients and clients to utilize tools for self-massage during the day, my favorite being a set of rubber balls from Tune Up Fitness.  Even when we sit in perfect posture, it’s inevitable that some muscles and connective tissue will become stiff over the course of a long day of sitting.  A ball is portable and convenient (say opposed to a foam roll), and all you need is a wall to fit some efficient and effective myofascial release techniques into your workday.  Jill Miller, the yoga instructor and author who created these tools, has an excellent website, book The Roll Model, and a variety of instructional videos on YouTube that will keep your soft tissues pliable, mobile and resilient throughout your day.

As she likes to say: Movement is Medicine.  We live in a sitting culture, yet our bodies require movement to remain healthy.  I highly encourage each of us to incorporate more nutritious movement into our workdays, to keep our bodies aligned, flexible and able to transition easily into any activities we choose to pursue outside of the office.

If you are not currently in physical therapy and are experiencing pain or if you simply have more questions, please contact our office.


Julie Deignan MPT, LMT received her Masters in Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California and her Massage Therapist Certification from the Institute of Holistic Studies in Santa Barbara, CA.  She’s continued her manual therapy training in Fascial Counterstrain, Craniosacral Therapy, Lymphatic Drainage, Ashiatsu, Thai Massage, Reflexology, Aromatherapy, Prenatal Massage, Deep Tissue and Sports Massage, and Trigger Point Release.  Working in both the outpatient Physical Therapy and Spa settings, she is passionate about empowering her patients and clients to play an active role in their own healing process and educating them to generously incorporate self-care healthcare into their daily habits.


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