Thursday, October 01, 2020

From office to digital device syndrome

Oct 07. 2019
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Health Talk programme from Thonburi Healthcare Group. about the benefits of physical exercise and show you how to work out to address the office and digital device syndrome.

Many people spend 8-10 hours in front of computer screens, resulting in stiff muscles and body aching, especially on their shoulders, neck and upper arm. We have good solutions to tackle this problem. With me today are Dr Tanatip and Archan Surasak, who is a physical therapist.

 Dr Tanatip Originally, the so-called office syndrome meant people working long hours at office with writing instruments. About 20-30 years ago, we started to use desktop computers so our sitting posture is just like this. This position is not natural as we are not built to sit for a long time in this style. For Bangkok motorists, there is also another problematic sitting posture when you are caught in traffic jams for hours. You may spend two hours daily in this position, hurting your back, neck and shoulders.


Archan Surasak, what is your recommendation? I would like to say that a decade ago we might talk about this problem purely as an office syndrome, but today it’s different everyone has a mobile phone using it anywhere in the office or while they are commuting on the Skytrin train etc. In public places, we can see many people are busy with their personal device. Their posture while using these gadgets is not healthy and when they sit they tend to slip and lie down on the chair, with the head also bowing down while using one or both hands touching or swiping on the touch screens. I can show such a posture. It’s like this. This causes neck and shoulder aching and pains. Many sufferers have sought treatment. Sometimes, they have not got proper help. This has nothing to do with kamma. It’s just the consequence of sitting improperly.


My advice is you have to agree the problem is caused by your own behavior. You should change your style. For those working 8-10 hours at a desk, I suggest you take frequent breaks. My advice is to get up more often, maybe not every hour, as that might affect productivity, but you should make sure you get up one plus one in the morning as well as in the afternoon. This means you routinely get up and leave the desk twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon. Altogether, you should take four breaks per day.


Another point is that you should test if you already have the tight neck and shoulder or back problem. The screening method is simple. We can do this together. Just stand up and raise both arms to the fullest extent. Make sure you can touch both ears comfortably without moving the head. Let’s me check Khun Nop. If you cannot do it with ease that means muscles around the shoulders and neck are tight. That’s a warning sign. One more time, we are going to show you how to test the condition of your neck, shoulder and back.


At a close look, I can see that  Khun Nop could not fully touch both ears without moving the head. There’s a gap and that’s the problem caused by muscle tightness. To do a proper test, you need to raise the arms and keep you head straightforward. Once you have muscle tightness, I would suggest that you do some brief exercise to stretch. You can do this following workout in the office next to your desk or even inside the rest room if it’s convenient. This workout takes just a few minutes and no sweating. This is aimed at loosening the muscles around the shoulders. It’s preventive and I can show you how to do it. Most people are familiar with this simple exercise when they’re in school. You have both hands touch your shoulders and then make forward and backward circles.


Just close your eyes and imagine to use the tip of your elbows just like a big pencil to make the biggest-possible circles around your shoulders. You should do it slowly with both arms. You will feel a movement of your shoulder muscles. Move your arms forwards three times and then backwards another three times by drawing the biggest possible circles.


Previously, I didn’t do it properly. Now I could feel a big difference. It seems to have stretched my lower back, neck and shoulder all at the same time. It’s simple and very useful. You don’t have to do it a hundred of times. Just a few times when it is convenient and do it as often as possible. Maybe 10 or 20 times or less as long as it’s convenient. One more thing when you return to your desk, make sure you sit straight even though you may slip a bit later on. By getting up more often you have the chance to be aware of your sitting position and can make a correction. Combing with a brief exercise, that’s a perfect way to take care of yourself without having to pay for anything.


Dr Tanatip and Archan Surasak, Have talked about the office and mobile syndrome as virtually everyone now uses smartphones and many users tend to have the posture problem when using these devices for an extended period. If they are sitting they are likely to gradually slip on the chair and almost lie down. What’s the issue here? Physically, our spine is shaped like the S alphabet. When you are not sitting straight up on the chair for a long time, your spine is affected and it may deform and become like the C shape, not S anymore. In this case, you risk having a deformed spine. That’s bad and unnatural. One solution is to test yourself by raising both arms to the fullest extent over your head and if you cannot touch the ears without moving the head, then you need to stretch regularly to prevent damaging the spine and reduce aching.


Some people could not raise their arms over the head so that’s the problem. Archan Surasak, you have other suggestions? I think we also need to be inspired to be healthy. If you want good health, it’s not on sale, you have to work out yourself. This will improve the quality of life. So stretching regularly is vital. Our body is like the car’s engine. It needs to run idle regularly to be in good shape. If you don’t start your car regularly, the battery and other moving parts will be soon in trouble.


For human beings, we need to have a lot of physical movements to stay healthy as a sedentary lifestyle is bad for your health. For people who use mobile phones many hours a day, they risk having the damaged spine due to sitting improperly. The spine shape shifts from S to C shape as explained earlier.


This has affected not only adults, but also children as young as 8 years old. In the older days, I only had patients in advanced age. Now, younger people and kids are also sufferers. Maybe, some kids are addicted to mobile computer games and we have pictures to show in these cases. In one case, a kid’s spine is reshaped like the C alphabet due to long hours on digital devices from smartphones to tablets etc. There was no proper parental guidance when kids use these devices.


It seems the office syndrome has shifted over the past decades to be the smartphone syndrome and now  the digital device syndrome to cover tablets, notebooks and other devices. Now, the new styled offices are called co-working space, which is designed to accommodate the new generation of workers with additional space for physical workouts and other activities. That’s helpful. Don’t be shy and become the trendsetters. With multiple and new-styled furniture and even standing desks, that’s good. So people can exercise inside their offices.

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