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Don't be a slouch: You'll hurt yourself

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Remember how your mother told you to "sit up straight?"

Well, she wasn't picking on you. She was right.

Medical experts say poor posture can be hazardous to your health -- and to business.

Two-thirds of people who work at desk jobs suffer from neck, shoulder and back pain, says Lisa DeStefano, who chairs Michigan State University's Department of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine.

That pain leads to about $3 billion loss in worker productivity every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

"We need to line our head and trunk up over our pelvis," DeStefano advises. "It will help decrease the amount of strain on our neck and shoulder muscles."

She says part of the solution  is to sit at the edge of your chair, with your feet flat on the floor.

"That gives you a little bit more of an advantage with tilting your pelvis forward, so you can balance your trunk on your 'sit bones' or your 'butt bones.'"

DeStefano says most of us aren't conscious of our posture, so she suggests setting a timer to remind yourself every 15 minutes. She says a mirror at your desk can also do the trick: You can catch yourself lapsing into a slouch.

It's also important to get up from your desk for at least five minutes every hour.

Asked about the recent trend of balance balls some people use instead of chairs, DeStefano says the devices don't prevent bad posture, nor do most chairs.

"When we use a chair that has a lumbar support, we can still slouch right into it."

While there has been more focus on ergonomics in the workplace over the past decade, DeStefano says few desks are adjustable to suit a users' height.

"The height of our table and where we sit relative to our keyboard is very important. If it's too high, then we really shrug our shoulders because we need to rest our hands on something. If it's too low, we slouch or bend forward."

The position of a computer monitor is also important, as is the placement of other work materials, so that your head  and neck are held at a proper, comfortable angle.

DeStefano says the healthiest way to work for many people is in a standing position.

"Ideally, we'd have the capability of having a seating-to-standing work station on a hydraulic unit, so that throughout the day you would have a choice. Anthropologically, we are made to stand more than we are to sit. And it's harder to slouch when you stand."

DeStefano says your legs may be fatigued from standing, but you may not be as likely to get the burning neck pain that frequently occurs in people who sit at a desk all day.

"If you're having pain that's interfering with your lifestyle, you should get advice from your doctor. And you should get plenty of exercise; most people don't get enough."

For more information about the American Osteopathic Association survey that led to this story, visit osteopathic.org/pain.