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Standing tall: Overcoming 'laptop-itis': Exercises can improve posture
[September 21, 2010]

Standing tall: Overcoming 'laptop-itis': Exercises can improve posture

Sep 21, 2010 (The Stamford Advocate - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- From the health screenings she conducts, Stamford chiropractor Dr. Beverley Marr knows there are few people who consider their posture peerless.

"They will say it is terrible or that it needs improvement," she said. "It is unusual to hear from someone who says they are happy with it." Such sentiment indicates that many people know to heed mom's advice to stand up straight, but daily life and its attendant tasks seemingly hinder people from improving their carriage.

Many can probably pin the blame on too much screen time, combined with a poorly designed work space.

"I have seen a lot more high school students as computers have become more prevalent in schools," said Dr. Michael Marks, an orthopedic surgeon with Coastal Orthopedics, as well as chief of staff and vice president of business development at Norwalk Hospital.

In particular, he said, it is the students' habit of sitting cross-legged on a floor, as they hunch over to work on their laptops, that will lead to musculoskeletal problems down the road.

"If you maintain your back in a 'C' position for a long time, even if you are 17 years old, then at some point you are going to have back problems," Marks said.

Computer users also are susceptible to neck strain, shoulder pain and tendonitis.

Marr said the very act of sitting in front of a computer for long periods of time tends to cause changes in posture and can put pressure on the spinal cord, leading to lower back pain. For instance, people tend to gradually adopt a head forward posture, as their heads drift closer to the screen. It is one way the body gives the neck muscles a break from carrying those relatively heavy heads, though it also can be caused by a rounding of the shoulders which forces the pectoral, or chest, muscles to tighten.

Meanwhile, Marks said wrists and elbows don't fare so well, either, often evidencing such conditions as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Those injuries are the kind that creep up on a person, or what those in the field call repetitive stress injuries.

"This is a cumulative injury that occurs over a long period of time," said Rose Parent, a physical therapist and certified ergonomics assessment specialist who works at the Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital in Schenectady, N.Y. As an ergonomics specialist, she works to adjust workplace spaces to prevent those repetitive injuries.

The idea of "laptop-itis" and other computer-related problems are not new. Such concerns have been on the radar of health professionals for many years. However, with some studies reporting that laptop sales are increasing, and with people working at home (and away from work environments that stress ergonomic measures), some believe that injuries are going to become more common.

But all is not lost for those who spend most of their waking hours clacking away on a keyboard. Those interviewed say there are ways to prevent postural problems.

Parent said laptop users should consider purchasing an additional keyboard and mouse, so that the laptop can be placed atop a table or desk. It allows the eyes to focus on the top part of the monitor, where they should be, and frees the keyboard to be moved to the appropriate height -- approximately waist height. Conversely, one can buy a monitor and utilize the laptop solely as a keyboard.

In addition, Marks said it is important to maintain an overall fitness.

"One of my pet peeves is that we are such a busy and rushed society that we don't take time out to keep ourselves physically fit," he said.

Attention to one's torso, often referred to as the core muscles, can provide better support for the back, for instance.

Marr, along with her Stamford Healthcare Associates colleague Dr. J. Christopher Sova, have developed a technique they call the SOAR Method. On a recent afternoon, Katie Clarke of Darien went through the exercises of this 15-minute program, which she has done several times a week for the past four months.

She said it has vastly improved her posture and overall fitness, as well as helped to reduce the effects of her lifestyle. Clarke, 42, who is a job recruiter, said most of her day is spent sitting at her desk and driving around in a car.

"I feel that I am more aware of my posture," she said. "I just feel stronger." The program uses a sequential series of exercises, drawn from ballet, pilates, yoga and other disciplines, that are completed with the help of an exercise ball.

"This helps to develop little and big muscles, and helps the posture from the get-go," Marr said, adding that the method also aims to increase balance and elongate the body.

So just what is a good posture? Marr said imagine a straight line from the ear to the shoulder, through the hip and the knee, and down to the ankle. A typical poor posture can be seen in a person whose head leans forward, forcing his or her shoulders to round and the chest to compress.

The important element when it comes to realigning the body, said those interviewed, is to catch problems before they become chronic.

"Posture is a habit," Parent said. "What you want to do is make a correct posture your habit." -- Staff Writer Christina Hennessy can be reached at or 203-964-2241.

Back to the basics Creating a better work space, whether you are a student, a work-at-home professional, or someone who goes to the office every day, is possible, the experts say.

It begins with the proper equipment, but it also requires some changes in routine.

Here are some tips: - Select an adjustable chair that provides ample back support. Existing office furniture may be modified with a pillow or towel to support the lower back. The hip-torso angle should be 90 degrees or greater, and feet should rest flat on the floor. Your shoulders should touch the back of the chair.

- The knees should be parallel to the hips, while the thighs are parallel to the floor. Give your knees some room, too. They shouldn't be touching the chair.

- Create a space that supports wrists and elbows.

- Place the keyboard at about waist height and make sure the monitor is positioned so that the eyes are about level to the top. (You should be able to read the screen without bending your neck.) Also make sure the monitor is directly in front of you. Several sources note that people with bifocals may want to slightly lower the monitor.

- Take frequent breaks, such as getting out of your seat for a walk, standing to answer the phone or taking a moment to stretch. A - Try to avoid regular improper carrying of heavy laptops, such as off of one's shoulder.

- Don't forget to drink water.

- Make sure to keep up an overall exercise program, particularly those exercises that strengthen the back, abdominals and pelvis.

These are just a few suggestions. A fairly comprehensive checklist can be found at the Office of Research Services Division of Occupational Health and Safety website at The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration also has comprehensive information on computer work stations. Visit For more information on the SOAR Method, visit

To see more of The Stamford Advocate, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2010, The Stamford Advocate, Conn. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit, e-mail, or call 866-280-5210 (outside the United States, call +1 312-222-4544).

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