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July 22, 2014

Want More Pain in Life? Keep Sitting.

By Michael Hughes

It is a well known fact that many people sit all day long: at work, at school, while studying, and while constantly browsing the internet and answering emails. However, it is lesser known how destructive this constant sitting is to our bodies. With the increase in the sedentary, American lifestyle coupled with gravity working on our bodies daily, we are in desperate need to make a change. So what happens to our bodies when we are sitting for prolonged times?

1. Gravity Pulls the Body Down and Forward.

While sitting down, working on a task in front of you, you may reach out and grab something like a phone or pen. When we do, our shoulder protracts forward, taking the whole upper body with it, extending and rotating it forward, and rounding out our upper back.

2. Neck Muscles Get Overstressed

When we are in a forward reaching position, we tend to tilt our head more forwards, taking the weight of the head away from the supportive framework of our shoulders and spine. This is where the weight of the head was intended to rest. Now our neck muscles are doing their best to strain against gravity and keep our head from totally nodding all the way down to our chest.

Picture a rope attached to a tall building and you are leaning back, pulling on this rope to keep this building from falling over. Now do this for hours. That’s what your neck muscles are doing while your head is tilted forward.

3. Shoulders and Back Muscles Work Overtime

Shoulders do the same thing from a different angle.We have to lift our hands to do “busy work”, which requires our trapezoids to lift our shoulders to elevate the arms. The trapezoids as well as the levator scapula have to stabilize and mobilize the shoulder to lift the entire arm up to grab the mouse or lift your fingers up to hit the keyboard.

It’s the constant holding position as well as keeping our arms out in front of us that cause muscle fatigue and subsequent pain.

4. Core Muscles Weak and Unused

Your abdominal muscles are attached to the pelvis and the bottom of our rib cage, which is attached to the spine. When we sit in the same position for hours, we begin to slouch. Most of us don’t realize we are doing this, essentially slouching turns off our core. So, the part of our bodies that most people complain about being flabby is what we use the least, based on the way we traditionally operate during work hours.

5. Glutes Lengthened and Hamstrings Shortened.

Something you may not have considered is what is happening to your lower body while you have been sitting all day? When sitting the hips and knees are flexed thus keeping the glutes lengthened and hamstrings shortened. In time, either position will cause the tissues to evolve into a dysfunctional state. The lack of movement can put you at risk for injury while you are on a run or participating in your favorite after work activity.

Bottom line: Gravity Wins the War on Our Bodies When We Sit For Too Long!

So how can we fix this problem?

1. During Work Day: Get Up and Stretch!

Some people find it helpful to set an alarm to remind them to get up, grab some water, and stretch their legs and upper body. The best idea is to move in the opposite direction that you are in while sitting.

2. Work at a Stand Up Desk.

We would ideally recommend trying to get an upright desk where you can stand up to work, instead of sit. Rethink how you do your work. Suggest to your boss that the company invests in their employees through whole body wellness and purchase stand up workstations.

3. Be Active!

The important thing to remember: without specified activity or training we cannot reverse the side effects consistent sitting has on our bodies. Whatever it is that gets you moving outside of the office, let’s make it happen! Commit to 3-5 times per week of at least 30-45 minutes of activity. We live in such a beautiful place, let’s take advantage of it. Added bonus, if you are able to exercise outside, you are able to take in some sunshine, which is a natural source of Vitamin D.

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