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Introduction (part 1)
from Stretching in the Office

A funny thing happened on the way to the electronic revolution. Large numbers of us ended up sitting at desks, working at computers. And that, as so many people have discovered, has its problems, its downsides.

Repetitive strain injuries (such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis) of the wrists, hands, and arms have risen by 80% since 1990, according to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and are now the single largest category of workplace-related injuries. In fact, they are now being described as the workplace epidemic of the nineties. Neck and shoulder stiffness, lower back pain, stiff muscles, and tight joints are all common among people working at computers. All of these conditions are the body signaling that something is wrong.

The human body was not designed for long periods of sitting. Holding still for hours at a time is a relatively recent phenomenon in human history. For some two million years, our ancestors had to use their bodies and muscles daily. In nomadic times activity was required for hunting and gathering. With the agricultural revolution, tilling the soil, planting, and harvesting required physical effort. After the industrial revolution and the advent of machines and motor vehicles, however, physical activity began to decline; nevertheless millions still worked in factories and assembly lines, using their bodies daily.

Now all that is changing — fast. The electronic revolution has meant that increasing numbers of people must spend more and more time sitting very still, working with computers, and the resultant problems are multiplying.

This book is for people who work at a computer and/or a desk and want to do something to counteract the negative effects that fixed positions and sedentary office work have on their bodies.

Stretching is a wonderful solution. It is a very simple activity that can make you feel better. It is gentle, peaceful, and relaxing. If practiced correctly, it can prevent many computer-related problems before they start and — if an injury has occurred — can help with rehabilitation.

Stretching can be done almost anywhere and at any time. It requires no special equipment, no special clothes, no special skills. You can stretch periodically throughout the day wherever you are. It can often be done while you are doing something else: when you’re at an office meeting, while on the phone, or while you’re waiting for the computer to process information.

Bob Anderson has taught stretching to people for almost 30 years and has seen gratifying results from this simplest of all physical activities — for people in all walks of life, from ordinary citizens to people in wheelchairs to world-class athletes.

This book applies the basic principles of stretching to the problems inherent in working at a computer and sitting still for long periods of time. It will show you how taking short stretching breaks throughout the day can make you feel better, prevent injuries, and lead to a more productive workday.

But first, let’s take a closer look at typical problems of the computer workplace.

Computer and Desk Problems

  • Back pain When you sit for long periods, your spine tends to compress. If your posture is bad, gravity accentuates the problem, which can lead to back pain.
  • Stiff muscles Not moving for long periods of time can cause neck and shoulder pain.
  • Tight joints Inactivity can cause joints to tighten, which makes moving more difficult or even painful.
  • Poor circulation When you sit very still, blood tends to settle in the lower legs and feet and does not circulate easily throughout the body.
  • Repetitive strain injuries These injuries are caused by repetitive movement, often of the hands. For example, carpal tunnel syndrome, a type of wrist pain, can result from improper use of the hands and/or poor positioning at the workstation.
  • Tension and stress Intense mental focus can produce physical tension (stiffness and pain), which can lead to mental stress — a debilitating cycle. Facial tension and a tight jaw can cause headaches.

Many of these problems can be solved by ergonomics — the science involved with proper type and positioning of office equipment in relation to the body (see pp. 46 to 50). However, no matter how sound the ergonomics, your body still suffers from long periods of sitting and inactivity. What can you do throughout the long work day to help prevent these problems?

You can stretch!