Someone recently said that sitting is the new smoking. Unfortunately, most of us are asked to sit for hours on end at office jobs, typing away at computers, sitting in meetings, and on our seemingly endless commutes.
It’s hard to imagine how “resting” can be hard on the body but holding any position for very long is simply torture, as far as your body is concerned.
The human body is not designed (or it has not evolved enough) for doing any one thing repeatedly. Whether it is sitting, standing in one place, or even lying down, our bodies revolt and end up with tight shoulders, bed sores, achy muscles, weak muscles, and stiff, sore backs.
Most people have no idea what happens when you sit too long, other than finding out that your butt has fallen asleep, but sitting all day has been linked to many modern day health problems, such as heart disease, obesity, cancer, and diabetes.
Employers are beginning to recognize that there are significant health benefits for their employees, which means less down time and a more profitable business environment, when they make ergonomic changes to offices that allow employees to stand or even walk while they work.
If you are one of the many individuals who spend hours sitting at a desk job or if you are wondering if your back pain or leg pain comes from sitting too long, then this is a must-read article!
Your chiropractor wants to help you recognize the dangers and symptoms of sitting too long and how you can avoid the following terrible things that happen to your back.
Is sitting bad for you? While it might feel relaxing to you, it’s driving your nerves crazy if you sit for too long. Sitting is normal, but not for hours on end. This feel unnatural and causes strained nerves, pinched nerves, and pain everywhere.
If you have ever been confined to bed for a period of time or stuck on an aircraft or in a car for hours, you know the feeling. Your muscles contract, pulling on the nerves, and you begin to spasm. You can’t help it. You can’t wait to change position if you are in bed or to stand up in the plane or get out of the car for any reason, just so you can walk around and stretch your arms and legs.
When you are actively stimulating your muscles and then relaxing them, such as walking home, then sitting down for a short time, this feels natural and normal. However, when your muscles begin to contract because they haven’t moved, it can lead to pinched nerves, which can cause pain anywhere in the body, but especially in the lower back and shoulders.
Your chiropractor can help to alleviate the pain that comes from pinched nerves but getting up every 30-60 minutes will go a long way towards stopping this from happening.
If your spine could talk to you, it would be screaming and begging you to stand up! When you stand up, the spine and discs should fall naturally into alignment and minimizes pressure on the lower back. Sitting, however, literally forces the vertebrae in the lower part of your back to crunch onto each other, putting a great deal more force on the discs, which left untreated, will result in chronic lower back pain.
Did you know that without gravity, you would be 1-2 inches taller? This happens to astronauts in zero gravity situations because there is nothing compressing the spine. The same thing happens when you lie down, you get a bit taller because the discs in your spine have room to expand. When you sit, however, the compression of your lower spine can cause you some serious pain if you don’t take breaks to relieve that pressure.
Unless you are actively doing exercises to strengthen your core and back muscles, sitting allows the muscles in these areas to weaken. This allows the vertebrae to shift out of position, squeezing the discs out of place and touching the nerves. This is the excruciating pain people talk about when they “throw their backs out.” There is no question here; sitting too long will lead to back pain.
To prevent these problems, set an alarm so that you stand up and stretch or walk for at least 2 minutes every 30-60 minutes. You should also see your chiropractor for regular adjustments to keep your spine aligned and stop unnecessary pressure on your lower back.
We’ve all seen those charts or posters that show you how to sit properly, but let’s be honest-how many of us actually do it? You might start out the day that way, but after fighting with your printer, reading 25 emails from your boss and trying to contact customers, all that proper sitting business just goes out the window.
So, what happens then? You will slouch over, with your shoulders up, your head jutting forward, leaning forward from the waist. Your spine will curve in a very unnatural way and this will end up causing serious pain.
To get an idea about how this works, imagine tying a 10-pound weight around your neck. Hurts just to think about it, right? It’s not much different when you allow your 10-pound head to slouch forward. This is one of the main causes of neck and shoulder pain.
Find ways to remind yourself to sit up straight. Set a timer or make a note you must look at several times each day. Send yourself timed email reminders, such as through futureme.org. If neck and shoulder pain continue despite your best efforts, make an appointment with your chiropractor.
Have you experienced leg weakness after prolonged sitting? Or leg pain after sitting too long? These are similar experiences caused by different issues, but both happen after extended periods of being on our butts.
The old saying that goes “if you don’t use it, you lose it”, certainly applies here. Our leg muscles and glutes get zero use when we are sitting. This means they atrophy or waste away. When you don’t have strong glutes or leg muscles to support the body, you are much more prone to falling or other type of injuries.
If you feel pain in your legs after sitting, it could be from a buildup of fluid in the legs combined with a lack of circulation. Sitting allows the blood and other fluids to pool in the legs. This is a common cause of swollen ankles and feet as well. The added pressure of this fluid makes standing and walking after prolonged sitting painful.
Another cause might be due to the pinched nerves we talked about in issue #1. How can you know which is the problem? Your chiropractor can diagnose the problem for you and help you find ways to prevent leg pain or weakness from happening.
We don’t want to scare anyone, but DVT (deep vein thrombosis) is a very real issue that can happen when you sit too long. DVT is a type of blood clot that is extremely common in the legs. If a part of the clot breaks off, it can cut off the circulation to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or the heart. This is a true medical emergency that would require immediate attention.
Even if you are very active during most of your day, a long car ride or especially during long airplane trips, sitting in one position without moving greatly increases your chances of developing this dangerous type of blood clot.
Even if you want to discount the other terrible consequences of prolonged sitting because you work out or you have yet to feel any pain from being at that desk 10 hours a day, this is a very real threat that can happen to almost anyone who sits for more than a few hours at a time. Unfortunately, the death rate from DVT is also very high.
You can avoid this issue simply by standing up and walking for a few minutes every 30-60 minutes. While this might not be easy to do on an airline, it can be done. Long car rides also qualify, so take frequent breaks, even if you don’t need gas or if none of the kids need the restroom!
Sitting for too long might be the curse of the computer age, but it doesn’t have to be. Taking frequent breaks, getting regular exercise, and including comprehensive chiropractic care as a part of your overall health program will prevent back, leg, and neck pain, keep the spine aligned and allow you to find perfect posture effortlessly while you work.
Pass this article along to your co-workers or anyone else you know who sits all day and might benefit from this information.
Dr. Brent Wells has been a trusted chiropractor since moving his family from Oregon to Alaska back in 1998 and founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab – B.S. from Univ. of Nevada, Doctorate from Western States Chiropractic College, volunteer for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Foundation, and member of the American Chiropractic Association. As a chiropractor his focus is on family, including his 3 children and wife of 20+ years, his clinics, and ongoing education.