The human body was purposefully designed to be active. Our muscular and skeletal structures were uniquely created to move: to flex, to extend, to rotate. Unfortunately, over past generations, humans as a whole have generally begun to use less of the full physical potentials of their bodies on a daily basis.
It has been recorded by Ergotron that about 86 percent of American workers spend about 13 hours sitting each day. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons(AANS) states that an estimated 80% of American people experience low back pain at some point in their life.
Taylor, Consmüller, and Rohlmann in their article “A novel system for the dynamic assessment of back shape” in the Medical Engineering & Physics journal, say: “Low back pain is an increasing problem and can be aggravated by prolonged static posture.”
The majority of the work day is spent hunched over a computer, or with their phone cradled between their ear and their shoulder to free up their hands to type on a keyboard. It is no surprise that these individuals, who make up a large majority of our population, have lower back pain, tightness in their neck and shoulders, poor posture, decreased hip mobility, weakened core, and may even suffer from some form off chronic pain. Let’s address the harmful nature of a sedentary work lifestyle, and discuss ways to correct, protect, and prevent the adverse effects that come with this type of working environment over time.
#1 Back Pain
If you are spending the majority of your work day sitting in front of a computer, I am sure you have experienced at least a mild form of back pain or discomfort. It is mechanically proven that sitting puts more pressure on your spine than when you are standing. In addition to a significant loss of flexibility in your spine overtime, this continuous compression puts you at risk of disk bulge and herniation, especially when combined with common reach movements one experiences at their desk such as reaching for files, items on the printer, etc.
#2 Neck and Shoulder Stiffness
Leaning forward over your computer, cradling your phone, or looking down to text, causes huge strains to your cervical vertebrae and surrounding muscles. Over extended periods of time, these postures can lead to significant muscular imbalances, ultimately causing pain and stiffness in your neck and shoulders. Ever heard “I carry my stress here” while a person directs toward the neck/shoulder region? You can bet that this person also regularly participates in these activities.
#3 Decreased Hip Mobility
Sitting for extended periods of time causes stiffness and decreased flexibility of your hips. This decrease in mobility, which is dominantly found in one direction, decreases your overall stability, therefore increasing your risk of falls and injury. Keep in mind that everything in your body is connected. You have hip function muscles which are also attached to your lumbar spine. Prolonged time in a shortened position without without active load decreases the opportunity of strength and essentially makes those muscles immobile.
#4 Weak Core
When you are sitting for long periods of time, your abdominal muscles are essentially going unused, and become weak over time as a result. Having a weak core decreases the amount of muscular support necessary to sustain proper form throughout the spine which will increase the probability and severity of low back pain. In addition, weak abdominal muscles along with postural habits of your legs increases your pelvic tilt, creating more unwanted and unnecessary pressure on your spine.
GUESS WHAT! The AANS also states that 90% of low back cases can be improved and alleviated without surgery, rehab exercise being the number one mentioned!
We all have to work, so how do we correct, protect, and prevent the negative effects of a sedentary work life?
- Park further away at work. Depending on your work hours and if this can be done safely, parking further away encourages you to get more movement in before and after work.
- Take the stairs. Commit yourself to taking the stairs over the elevator a certain amount of times per week. It will get easier over time, and you will soon be laughing at all of the people crammed into the elevator to get to lunch.
- Set reminders to get up and walk around every 30 minutes to an hour. My watch buzzes me and tells me to move when I have been sitting for an extended period of time. It can get annoying, but so can lower back pain!
- Set up your office in optimal positions for YOU. You may be given a standard, desk and a standard computer but you have the ability that can make huge changes to your posture and correcting bad habits. When seated in good posture your computer screen should be 6 inches above eye level. Use a spacer, organizers or even books to make this huge change to your regular working posture.
- Use a stability ball instead of a chair. This challenges your abdominal muscles to keep your core stabilized, which can reverse the muscle loss caused by sitting in a normal office chair over an extended time.
- Talk to your personal trainer!!! Have them show you proper exercises and correct techniques to correct these muscular imbalances, increase strength and flexibility, and eliminate aches and pains from your job! **The physical ones, at least;)
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