Physical Therapist’s Workplace Wellness Tips

Plus Free Yoga Workout!

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What is Workplace Wellness in 2021?

Wellness, particularly in the workplace, has shifted dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic. Workplace wellness generally refers to optimizing a workplace for the health, happiness, positivity and well-being of its employees. Shifts in working from the office to working from home have created different types of challenges for all of us to manage. What still may remain a challenge for many, however, is the amount of sedentary and screen time associated with many types of jobs. The average American sits for 6.5 hours daily with much of that time spent in front of some kind of screen.

We all need to move more to improve health and reduce risk of injury. For tips on workplace wellness and improving our physical health, we reached out to Kelsea DeVries, a Doctor of Physical Therapy. DeVries has some fantastic ideas to share on doing an ergonomic assessment of our workspace, moving more often and participating in accountability challenges to create some fun in meeting small wellness goals.

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Kelsea DeVries is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Coast Guard wife, mom of 2, Independent Rep for ZYIA Active, and soon to be Certified Yoga Teacher (200 hr). She enjoys running, yoga, working out, and being outdoors boating on the Chesapeake Bay or hiking in the mountains where she is from. Moving cross country over the last 10 years has given her vast experiences with different people and lifestyles. However, she always falls back on the fact that, no matter what, people are going to get hurt and there will always be a need for a PT and a yoga instructor! 

Q: Generally speaking, most of us sit too much during the day for work and maybe even for leisure. What are your top physical therapy tips to improve posture/movement during more sedentary days?  

Tip #1: Make sure you get in at least 30 minutes of activity in addition to sitting.

This doesn't have to be rigorous workout—a brisk walk will suffice, but you can absolutely turn up the intensity if you have fitness goals you are working on.

Tip #2: Just Do It!

I personally prefer to do my physical activity in the morning— that way I don't have to keep pushing it back behind other priorities. But honestly it doesn't matter when, just that you do it!

Tip #3: If you sit at a desk on a computer, do an ergonomic assessment of your set-up.

You should have a chair with a back support, feet touching the floor, keyboard at elbow height so you can keep your shoulders relaxed, and screen at eye height so that you don't have to crane your neck forward.

Standing desks are great, but there is a whole lot of postural issues in standing positions for long periods of time as well, so I recommend the adjustable kind that you can alternate standing and sitting with the height specifications that are specific to your size and stature. 

Tip #4: Get up and stretch a few times per day.

Sitting causes tightness in our hip flexors, chest, shoulders, and low back. Lunges are great ways to stretch your hip flexors—stretching your arms across either side of a door can open your chest, bending your ear towards one shoulder stretches the upper traps, and a simple forward fold can help release the low back. Generally I tell people to hold stretches for 30 seconds, however in this case a 5-10 sec hold and release for 10-15 reps can be a more effective and dynamic way to stretch and get the blood flowing to counter all the time you have been sedentary.

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Q: What are common ergonomic hazards that you come across frequently, and how can we reduce our risk of injury and create better work environments for ourselves whether in the office or at home? 

DeVries: I feel that in the last 18 months as more people are working from home, they are tending to use laptops and be on their phones more often. The most common areas of injury from laptop and sitting incorrectly are in the spine. We have a term called "text neck" which is a forward jutting of the head causing excess tightness at the base of the skull and pressure in the discs of the cervical spine. Symptoms can include pain, tension headaches, and numbness/tingling/pain in the arms and/or hands.

Sitting with proper alignment of the head and neck and relaxation of the shoulders is the best way to keep our cervical spines happy and healthy. Doing a simple "chin tuck" or retraction of head into alignment is a great way to build awareness of where you should be aiming for as well as building strength in the deep neck flexors for overall endurance to maintain that posture.

Sitting at a desk chair or in a lounge chair with your laptop on your lap is comfortable for a short time, but over time causes the curve in the lower lumbar spine to be reversed for long periods of time, which causes tight hamstrings due to the posterior tilt of the pelvis, tightness in the muscles in your low back, and also can put excess pressure on your lumbar discs.

Common symptoms are pain directly in the back or referred pain down the buttocks (better known as sciatica). Sitting with a lumbar support (roll up a hand-towel, hinge forward at your hips and place the towel where it lands) can stimulate the correct extension of the lumbar spine and recruit the lower abdominals, and getting up and stretching every 1-2 hours can be helpful.

If you tend to sit fairly upright, don't forget your hip flexors may get tight as well, which causes a different strain on the back from the front of the spine, so a healthy stretching routine in general is a great way to avoid injury when you do go out and participate in physical activity.

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Q: Daily physical activity, nutrition, and adequate sleep are the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. Are there things you suggest to your clients/patients to help them create new habits in regards to incorporating more movement? 

DeVries: When I evaluate someone and can diagnose their particular problem unique to them, I can then give them a few exercises to perform at home. I suggest only adding 2-3 new exercises in addition to your 30 minutes of activity in order to not overwhelm yourself.

If the exercises work and people start to get better, then generally people want to continue them because they know what the result of not doing them is...pain comes back. I am not a nutritionist, so I generally try not to talk too much about that, and I'm a horrible sleeper, so I try not to preach that either!

I do think accountability challenges are great ways to build healthy habits, and I have done a few of them. The daily habits included meal planning, drinking a certain amount of water per day, 30 minutes of exercises, and writing in a journal. I am motivated by healthy and friendly competition, so this worked for me! There are plenty of resources out there and people who do free or paid accountability challenges. However, you can always start your own just by making a chart or keeping a calendar and reward yourself when you succeed! Invite a few accountability partners (friends) to do it with you!

Q: You started a YouTube yoga channel, which is such a great resource. How does yoga influence your work as a PT? 

I have been seriously practicing yoga for over 12 years, and I love that it is a total body workout. For those that think it is "just stretching" and slow, then look into a more vigorous practice like Vinyasa or Power Flow. You literally use every muscle in your body. Restorative and gentle yoga are great as well, but for different goals than I personally use with my PT patients. I started to use it with my clients when I realized how it was affecting my own performance with running and other fitness goals. I can go into a yoga class with pain or tightness, and feel like a million bucks when I am done.

I have been a PT for 14 years, and the profession has changed even in that time to a more "exercise-focused" approach compared to "manual therapy" only. How great is it to have a tool like yoga where you can literally learn how to heal your own injuries via movement patterns and flow without having to go to a PT two times per week for 12 weeks and deal with doctor follow-ups and insurance co-pays? I am working on my official certification in teaching yoga, and eventually plan to incorporate the two, providing private yoga classes, yoga therapy, and one-on-one physical therapy. 

Follow Kelsea for more great physical therapy tips, yoga workouts and great activewear options.  

  • Instagram: @kelseamovespt

One of her most popular yoga classes is the Morning Energizing Flow!