Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Physical Strain Of Sitting

By Dr. John A. Papa, DC, FCCPOR(C)

From smart phones to computers to video games, modern technology has significantly influenced our daily postural habits and caused us to sit more often and for longer periods of time than ever before.  As a result, our increased exposure to sitting has contributed to rising levels of inactivity, and chronic ailments such as headaches, neck pain, and back pain.

People who sit for prolonged periods of time may adopt a poor posture that includes losing the natural hollow of the low back, rounding or slouching of the upper back and shoulders, and a forward head poking position.  This can eventually lead to painful symptoms as these less than ideal positions put cumulative compression, stretch, and shear forces on spinal tissues such as joints and discs.

The cumulative effects of sitting are often offset by the body’s ability to compensate.  However, even in the absence of pain, these compensatory changes may begin a vicious cycle of unbalanced motion, muscle and joint stress, and secondary areas of discomfort.

Structural changes can also result from poor or prolonged sitting habits.  For example, aside from providing anatomical support, ligaments also function as neurological sense organs to the spine and influence reflexes that help muscles fire.  When an individual is exposed to prolonged sitting postures, they load their spinal ligaments which results in a delayed reflex action of muscles.  As a result, when this individual moves, the muscles may not fire quickly enough to protect the spine and this can lead to episodes of neck and back pain.  This is known as the biomechanical principle of CREEP, which stands for Continuous or Repetitive Elongation of the Elastic Properties of tissue.

Scientific research has also identified changes in muscle tissue associated with inactivity and prolonged sitting.  Over time, muscle tissue will accumulate fatty infiltrations that make it weaker and less capable of providing support for physical activity.

Below are some useful tips that can help overcome the physical strain of sitting:

1.    Proper posture is key:  Make sure weight is evenly distributed, your shoulders are not rounding forward, and you are not slouching.  A lumbar support can also be used to help maintain the natural hollow of your low back and proper spinal alignment.  Even slight slouching to the side, backward, or forward can put undesirable forces on biological tissues.
2.    Take a break from sitting:  Take 10 to 30 second stretch or posture breaks every 20 to 40 minutes.  Some activities such as computer work, talking on the phone, and business meetings can also be done while standing.

3.    Consider ergonomics:  The use of a properly designed workstation, along with ergonomic tools and assistive devices can help maintain mechanically advantageous positions while working in a seated position.

4.    Engage in regular physical activity and exercise:  Exercise strengthens our muscles and joints, while inactivity and poor posture weakens them.  Regular exercise can help overcome the effects of cumulative spinal forces, compensation, CREEP, and fatty infiltrations associated with poor posture and prolonged sitting.

Sitting can undeniably cause real physical change and breakdown in the body.  Chiropractors are well positioned to effectively evaluate and treat the effects of poor posture and prolonged sitting.  This may include symptomatic treatment, the prescription of appropriate exercises, and ergonomic advice specifically for your circumstance.  For more information visit

This article is a basic summary for educational purposes only.  It is not intended, and should not be considered, as a replacement for consultation, diagnosis or treatment by a duly licensed health practitioner.