Are you sitting uncomfortably?

FEW people can fail to be impressed by the athletes who compete in the Modern Pentathlon.

Regarded by many as "the complete athlete" competitors have to shoot, fence, swim, horse ride and run.

The British women's team has done well in recent years in the Olympic sport, at the last two events, bringing home silver and bronze medals.

And as the team prepares for London 2012 there is another team of people behind them – doctors, physiotherapists, nutritionists and an osteopath.

Sports osteopath David Annett, from Harrogate, has been working with the Modern Pentathlon team for the last ten years.

Due to the diverse nature of the five sports the athletes have to compete in, injuries are common. And that is where David comes in.

"I have seen some horrific riding injuries," says David, who recently returned to live and work in Yorkshire from London.

"One competitor broke both her wrists falling off a horse. Fencing is really hard on the ankles and feet and shooting causes a lot of shoulder problems.

"It is important to try to keep the athletes really fit and healthy."

Last year he travelled to Chengdu, China, where he shepherded Britain's team through the Modern Pentathlon World Championships.

David is very hopeful to be part of the 2010 Olympics in London, either as osteopath to the Pentathlon team, or in the Olympics medical centre.

"I have applied to be a volunteer in the medical centre at London 2012. A lot of the smaller countries can't afford to bring their own medical teams with them and so they use ones provided by the host nation."

Although David moved back to Yorkshire in June with his wife and two young children, he still spends one day a week in London.

The rest of the time he runs a Leeds clinic, the West Point Practice. Before his return to Yorkshire David spent a decade practising in central London. There, he treated clients who ranged from City workers to rap stars and circus performers.

"I grew up here so I know the quality of life – it's just fantastic. We've just started a family and I wanted them to have the same."

A keen rugby player, having captained both Harrogate Grammar School and Harrogate RUFC (as well as representing Yorkshire Schools and Colts), David now works alongside Vicky Rossington – the physiotherapist for the Yorkshire Rugby team.

He may know how to keep top sports figures fit, yet he takes equal interest in the most everyday problems.

He specialises in treating repetitive stress injuries and in problems of the upper and lower back.

"Whether it's an athlete or an overworked teacher, I'll use osteopathy, sports-derived muscle massage, stretching and exercises."

David also has a special interest, some may say an obsession, with ergonomics.

A national ergonomics expert, who consults for both the NHS and private companies, he takes a special interest in improving work situations.

It is clear that he finds it hard to switch off, immediately criticising the height and angle of my chair and footrest. His eagle eye couldn't help but review the newsroom and pick on people "breaking the rules" and storing up bad backs for the future.

British business loses an estimated 4.9 million days to employee absenteeism through work-related back conditions each year, with each affected employee taking an average of 19 days off work, and David believes many could be avoided by taking simple steps.

"Modern ways of working such as desk sharing, home working and more people using laptops are causing more problems particularly when it come to neck, shoulder and back problems."

David advises people to take ten minutes to assess and get used to their workspace before starting work.

Check the position of the screen - it shouldn't be too far away.

Check seat position. Many people don't know how to adjust their seats properly

Use a foot rest

Use a copy holder if you are a touch-typer so that you don't have to look down all the time.

Use a headset if you spend a lot of time on the telephone taking notes.

"Long-term risks are temporary or even permanent damage to your lower back." David is particularly concerned about the effect on children of using computers, lap tops and electronic games.

"Adults and children who use laptops a lot should use a laptop holder and a separate keyboard," he advises.

"The key for children is to limit the amount of time on computers and electronic games.

"There are statistics which show that when we aren't asleep we spend 90 per cent of our time sitting down. That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on our backs. Good posture is so important and yet so many people just don't know how to sit properly to limit the amount of damage."

www.ergotherapy.co.uk

Ancient history of challenge

The Pentathlon was introduced at the 18th Olympiad in 708 BC. It consisted of running the length of the stadium, jumping, throwing the spear, throwing the discus and wrestling. The Pentathlon held a position of unique importance in the Games with the winner ranked as "Victor Ludorum".

The Modern Pentathlon, introduced at the 5th Olympiad in Stockholm in 1912, embraced the spirit of its ancient counterpart. It comprised pistol shooting, fencing, swimming, horse riding and running.

The idea was to test "the ideal, complete athlete."