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The holidays have come to an end. The new year celebrations are over and it’s back to work we go. The time off has given your joints and muscles a much-needed break from sitting in the office all day and the dreaded commute to work and you’re feeling much better for it. But as the daily grind starts over, what can you do to look after your spine health and improve posture during the commute?

Well….our physio’s have come up with a few suggestions to help ease you back into the new year with a renewed focus on your health.

Improve Your Posture

Its 6:30am. It’s cold, you’re tired. Whether you’re sitting on a bus or a train, the temptation to sit slouched in your chair and scroll endlessly through Twitter. This habit is hard to overcome. However, regular periods of prolonged sitting and hunching over tablets and smart phones has been shown to have detrimental effects to your spine and joint health. Coupled with the long hours you will then go on to spend sitting at your desk, this increases the risk of back, neck and arm pain. Not to mention other well known health risks linked to a sedentary lifestyle.

Tips to help improve posture:

  1. If you work in an office and know you will be spending a lot of time at your desk, it is a good idea to try and stand on the bus/train during your commute. As inconvenient as this is, it will give your postural back muscles a chance to rest when you’re out of work as well as decrease the damaging effects that prolonged sitting has on your core muscles.
  2. Make sure your desk and chair is correctly set up for you. This will ensure you sit in a neutral position though the day, decreasing the risk low back, neck and arm pain.
  3. Take regular postural breaks. The body was not designed to sit down for several hours on end, every day. Standing up or changing posture regularly to keep your spine moving will minimise the risk of joint pain and discomfort.

Carrying Bags

Carrying of heavy bags on your commute can also contribute to postural strains and joint discomfort. As strong as the human back is, lugging around additional weight can add unnecessary strain onto your joints.

Tips to improve spine and joint health when carrying bags:

  1. Aim for symmetry. When carrying loads to and from work try and ensure that there is even weight on both side of your body. Putting extra weight on one side of your body for a prolonged period of time causes your spine to curve and therefore engages muscles unevenly, which can lead to pain and discomfort.
  2. Wear a backpack. As childish as this may seem, the duel straps of a backpack are the easiest way to evenly distribute weight across your back. This will help keep even alignment of your spine.
  3. Carry a small bag. The bigger the bag the larger the chance of loading it with unnecessary items that will ultimately just weigh you down. Keeping your bag small will mean that you will only pack important items and reduce unnecessary weight.

The danger of overhead hand rails

Reaching over your head to hold on for dear life as your bus jerks uncontrollably through the streets of can put unwanted stress on your shoulders. This can lead to tension in the neck and shoulders as well as damage of the joint or the stability muscles in your shoulder. The taller you are the smaller the distance you hand must travel to reach these supports which decreases the stress on your shoulders. Shorter individuals are more at risk.

Reduce the risk of shoulder injury:

  1. Avoid reaching up to the high hand rails if possible. Hold on to the support poles and waist height rails if available. This will help minimise unwanted stress to your shoulder joint.

Footwear

Commuting through public transport often involves a fair amount of walking. Whether you are walking to or from the station, interchanging between platforms, or walking from home to work, unknowingly to many, your choice of footwear can play a large role in ankle/foot pain. If you carry out your commute wearing heeled shoes (men and women!) this leaves your ankle with little to no support. This means that unnecessary pressure is transmitted to your feet. The repetitive nature of walking can then lead to common repetitive injuries such as plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis.

Avoid foot and ankle injuries:

  1. Commute in trainers. Trainers are often more comfortable than work shoes. They provide better support for your ankles and the arches in your feet. This leads to less overload and reduced the risk of painful foot conditions. You can always change into your work shoes when you get to work!
  2. Ensure you work shoes fit properly. Poorly fitting footwear causes unwanted stress to your feet and as a result problems can occur. The best way to avoid this is make sure your shoes fit comfortably and provide adequate support.

Article by: Kolade Awobowale, Chartered Physiotherapist at Capital Physio

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