MICROBREAKS - Saving muscles from overuse
Muscular pain is one of the most common pathologies of today's society. Muscle pain occurs as joints degenerate over time and become arthritic. It is associated with nearly every musculoskeletal injury and is responsible for most of the dull and achy pains felt throughout the body that "happen for no reason". With a steady rise in desk jobs, time spent on devices (computers, cell phones, tablets, etc.), we are seeing more and more patients with muscle related pain in physical therapy. Even doing household chores like vacuuming, folding laundry, hanging clothes, and unloading groceries from your car can create muscle pain. Although there are many things that happen in life that cannot be controlled, there is still much that can be done to minimize and prevent muscle pain due to overuse injuries, posture, and repetitive movements.
When working at a desk or computer for extended periods of time there are a few things you can do to protect yourself from postural and repetitive strain on your muscles. Ensure your work station is set up ergonomically with the top of your monitor at eye level. Keep things you use frequently closer to you on the desk. Have your mouse and keyboard positioned at elbow height. Find a chair that allows you to sit comfortably with your feet flat on the ground and good lumbar support. The most important thing, however, is to not stay in any one position for too long. Set a 20 minute timer on your computer, mobile device, or use a kitchen timer, and when the alarm sounds stand up and stretch out or walk around for 1-2 minutes. This "microbreak" will allow your muscles that have been working to rest, your vascular system to bring fresh oxygen while taking away lactic acid build-up, and restore your posture before it inevitably falls into "bad posture".
Microbreaks can be used in any situation. There is research that shows more than 20 minutes of any repetitive activity can cause myofascial restriction, called trigger points, to form in the part of muscles that contract. Accumulations of trigger points and restrictions in the muscular and fascia system are what can contribute to muscle pain over a period of time. So, no matter what kind of work you are doing, if it is repetitive, remember to take microbreaks every 20-30 minutes to allow your muscles to rest and not be overworked
Dr. Jonathan Cole, DPT, CMTPT