Sitting Is The New Smoking
We spend so much of our days sitting. Sitting at a computer. Sitting driving. Sitting watching television. Sitting eating a meal. Mechanically, we were not designed to sit for extended periods. We were made to be on our feet, moving and walking. That is why we have the ability to travel and walk great distances much like our early explorers and today’s marathon runners. Our bodies and joints are designed to move and it feels good to move.
Many upper and lower back problems these days can be partly blamed on long periods spent sitting on our bums. Let us start from the top.
Upper Cross Syndrome
When we sit and, say, work at a computer, many of us find ourselves reaching out to our keyboards, looking down at our screens, leaning forward as we type. This type of posture often leads to what is commonly referred to as, “Upper Cross Syndrome”. This can lead to neck, shoulder and upper pain as well as headaches.
Lower Cross Syndrome
The next problem that can come from sitting is lower back pain. As there is an “Upper Cross Syndrome” for your upper back, there is also a “Lower Cross Syndrome” for your lower back. When you sit for long periods, muscles that are shortened become tighter, and muscles that have been stretched out for too long become weaker. In the case of sitting, your hamstrings, hip flexors and abdominal muscles are often the muscles which become shortened and tight, whereas your gluts, quads and lower back muscles do the opposite and become stretched out and weak. This imbalance can put further strain on your lower joints and spine, leading to lower back discomfort.
Another issue is with your discs. Your discs are the soft squishy structures that sit between your spinal bones or vertebrae and help your body absorb pressure and external forces. When you sit, this position places more stress on your discs than if you were to stand or lay down. There is roughly 5x more pressure on your discs when you are sitting than laying down, and 40% more than when you are standing. If you bend forward while sitting this increases the pressure on your discs to 85% more than if you were standing upright.
A Better Way Of Sitting
There is nothing wrong with sitting for short periods with proper support and posture. If you do sit for long periods, here are a couple suggestions to help ease the pressure on your body:
- Ensure that you have good posture even when sitting
- Avoid leaning forward in your chair
- Keep your joints close to a 90o bend (ie. elbows, knees, hips)
- Scoot your bum right to the back of your chair and lean back, avoiding having any gap between your chair back and your bum. Ideally, you want to have a slight lean backwards with your backrest
- If your chair is too deep or you find your feet dangling off the edge, place a cushion behind your back or use a footrest
- If your chair includes a lumbar support, make use of it
- Consider using a sit-stand desk
Another good idea is to take regular mini breaks to help reduce the pressure building up in your back. Get up and move around every half hour or at least every hour