Nicholas Wujcik, Manager of Growth Strategies at ATI Worksite Solutions, discusses how to successfully utilize micro-breaks to minimize discomfort during personal and business travels
The summer sports have ended. The days are getting shorter. You’re trying to get your business travel out of the way. All the while you’re on your way to spend time with friends and family for the holidays.
Fall is an interesting time when our schedules become busier than they’ve been throughout the year, yet our bodies become more sedentary. The negative effects of sitting for prolonged periods are well documented, including “sitting is the new smoking” campaigns; however, few modes of travel allow any deviation from long bouts in a seated posture.
This creates a perfect storm for both short-term and long-term discomfort stemming from a static posture. Long-term effects may include dysfunctions as severe as muscle shortening, muscle atrophy or biomechanical abnormalities. Short-term effects typically present as acute soreness. Both can be curbed with proactive micro-breaks — in this case, short bouts of deviation from a static, seated posture.
Stretch your legs with micro-breaks
Some of the most common body parts affected by static, seated posture are the legs/hips, low back, and neck/shoulder complexes. Typical seated posture includes the knees and ankles bent at 90 degrees with little room to stretch either joint out. Most seats are now designed where comfort eliminates the need for our core to engage to support our upper body; this leads to relaxed lower backs resting in unnatural positions.
Lastly, the combination of our unsupported core and likelihood to be on our smartphones leads most people to a forward head and forward shoulder posture. All of which can cause discomfort in the short term and biomechanical dysfunctions in the long-term.
Micro-breaks for the legs may be the most difficult depending on the mode of travel. The best solution is to get up and walk around periodically. On a plane or in a car, it may be easy to walk down the center aisle or pull over and walk around, respectively.
On a bus or a crowded train, your options may be limited. In those instances, try straightening your legs and pulling your toes towards your shins. This will help to stretch your hamstrings, gastrocnemius, and soleus to varying extents. And while it’s not the ideal remedy, it’s better than nothing.
Low back discomfort may be the most common complaint when seated for too long. Similarly, to micro-breaks for your legs, getting up and walking around may be an effective change in posture for your low back because it requires you to engage your core.
A seated strategy would be to lean forward so that your back is not resting on the seat and sitting up as tall as you can. This will also engage your core and will likely begin to stretch your shoulders as well.
If you’ve ever watched a video on your phone while sitting in your chair, you’ve likely fallen into a forward shoulder and forward head posture. Your shoulders roll forward and inward, which in extreme cases, can lead to impingement of nerves in the shoulder complex. Your head creeps forward and down, which can put unnecessary strain on the muscles in the back of the neck. A good micro-break to counteract this is sitting up straight, pinching the shoulder blades back and together and tucking the chin. When done correctly, you should look like you’re getting a ceremonial pin put on your lapel and trying to create a double chin.
While these strategies require little investment, the results can pay dividends in preventing future soreness. A basic guideline is to utilize a micro-break for 20 to 30 seconds every 20 to 30 minutes.
Try these changes on your next trip feel better when you get to your destination.
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Nicholas Wujcik is the Manager of Growth Strategies at ATI Worksite Solutions. His undergraduate Athletic Training education led him to ATI as an onsite Athletic Trainer with an automotive supplier in the metro Detroit area. A couple of years later, he moved to Indianapolis to work at the headquarters for ATI Worksite Solutions, aiding in Data Analysis and Business Development efforts within the organization. More recently, he has completed his Masters of Business Administration with a concentration in Data Analytics and looks forward to helping more clients reduce musculoskeletal injuries onsite.