Wear & Tear at the Bar

Suffering from pains or aches? There are three key areas to focus on, advises Christopher Belderbos

Barristers are subject to all of the usual musculoskeletal problems affecting office workers. However, they also suffer their own particular stresses and strains, exacerbated by the nature of life at the Bar. In particular: (i) spending long hours at a desk encourages the back to become rounded, the shoulders to hunch forward and the neck to arch backwards; (ii) standing or walking for long periods in shoes that offer little support causes the arches in the feet to collapse and roll in. In order to compensate the hips then rotate out causing the spine to twist, the weight to fall forward and back and shoulders to round; and (iii) transporting awkward and heavy bundles to and from court causes an uneven distribution of weight through joints and muscles. Combined with an understandable reluctance to take time off work, these factors cause fatigue in the muscles and wear and tear in the joints, and can lead to longer term problems.   


Christopher Belderbos runs the Ludgate Clinic on London’s Fleet Street which specialises in physiotherapy, osteopathy, acupuncture and yoga. Visit: www.ludgateclinic.co.uk

 

Posture

Our musculoskeletal system is constantly seeking a balance between the forces of opposing muscle groups. Getting the balance wrong whilst doing even simple things like sitting at a desk or being on our feet all day can result in injury.  

Top tips:

  • Sitting on a Swiss ball can help realign the spine and strengthen the core abdominal muscles. Keep your feet flat on the floor to evenly distribute your weight and imagine a piece of string gently pulling you up from the top of your head.  
  • When sitting at your desk try to sit on the bony part in the centre of each buttock, keep your shoulders directly above your hips, allow your eyes to look straight in front of you and gently brace your core abdominal muscles.
  • If you’re always looking down at your papers or books consider getting a bookstand which will help to prevent hunching.
  • Don’t wedge the telephone between your ear and shoulder – hold it in your hand or invest in a headset so that your hands are free.
  • When standing, again imagine a piece of string pulling you up from the top of your head, keep your shoulders directly above your hips and point your feet forward.
  • Check the heels of your shoes. If the outside edge is over worn, your feet may be rolling in.
  • If you are a runner, invest in good running trainers which offer support for the arch of the foot.
  • Try to always use a wheeled bag or suitcase when transporting heavy court bundles.


Flexibility 

Keeping the muscles and joints flexible will make them less prone to strains and will reduce fatigue.

Top tips:

  • Regular stretching (see two examples below) and exercising will remind your muscles not to stay in the same position and will encourage blood flow.
  • Gradually build up your fitness and flexibility and stop if it becomes painful. If in doubt seek professional advice. 
  • Simply getting up from the desk and rolling the shoulders forwards and backwards will help to relax the muscles.
  • Regularly sit up tall and take deep breaths, encouraging the lower ribs and abdomen to expand and refreshing the air in your lungs.
  • Yoga can improve both strength and flexibility, helping you to re-educate bad postural habits, strengthen core muscles and increase blood flow and oxygen uptake to the muscles.

Stretch 1: Lying on your back and keeping the knees and ankles together gently lower the legs to one side and rotate your head to the opposite side.  Let your arms rest out beside you at 45 degrees.

Stretch 2: Sitting crossed legged interlock your hands behind your back and gently raise your hands.

Gently hold these stretches for 10-30 seconds before slowly returning to the original position. Always seek professional advice if you have an injury.

Strength

Don’t let your back muscles do all the work.

Top tips:

  • When sitting or standing gently pull your stomach in to strengthen the core muscles and distribute some of the forces away from your back.
  • Pointing your feet forward when you walk will strengthen the muscles that prevent your thighs twisting out and your weight falling forward.
  • Varying your exercise routine and using light weights with high repetition will enable you to achieve a balance between muscle groups so no one group takes excessive strain.