Do you sit for long periods throughout the day? Work, travel, chilling out at home, and everything in between?
Even though sitting is relatively a passive activity, it is still loading various body parts much more than you may realise (something is keeping you up against gravity, right?). This is especially true for the spine, shoulders, and hips. These areas may become symptomatic after sitting for too long.
How long is too long? That really depends on an enormous list of factors such as your posture, your general health, your sitting volume, your workstation, and the list really goes on and on!
There are well-known musculoskeletal problems that develop from prolonged sitting. Pain and tightness are the most common symptom I see in the clinic, and they can be related to:
Headaches, Neck Pain, Back Pain, Shoulder Pain, reduced lung capacity, Reduced gluteal strength and flexibility, reduced hip joint range of motion, reduced hamstring muscle strength and flexibility, and patellofemoral pain.
Tightness and stiffness after sitting for long periods may suggest your body is telling you the tight area has been overloaded in a way it doesn’t like.
So what can you do?
Fortunately the negative effects of sitting are manageable (and even somewhat reversable), but it requires awareness and commitment to change some bad habits, and finding alternatives to work requirements that can be changed.
1. Get out of the sitting position and posture as often as you can without impacting your task. Think laterally. Can you take a phone call standing up, or even walking?
2. Utilise a stand up desk, or a stand up unit that sits on a desk to allow you to work in standing.
3. If you must sit and there's really no alternative, regularly changing as much as you can helps. Posture, chair, desk height, etc. Good posture as often as you can, and not-so-good posture for short periods in between.
4. Use a foam roller, a “peanut” for trigger point releases, or even a tennis ball to help stretch out and get into positions that are the total opposite of the sitting position. Can you do this while watching your usual TV show / using your laptop? Not everyone can, but if you can, you should!
5. Nothing beats actually getting up and walking, and simultaneously reducing your overall sitting time!
How different is the position of sitting vs movement of walking, and even running? Nearly completely opposite! In sitting vs walking, shoulders are forward vs back, hips are more extended, and knees are more extended, allowing more range of motion.
6. Recent studies recommend 45mins of vigorous activity daily can offset much of these negative effects of sitting and help slow the "decline".
What is declining? Remember sitting is bad not only due to the “bad load” on the shoulders, hips and spine, but also the missed “good load” such as the weightbearing required to maintain muscle mass and bone density, deep breathing required to maintain lung capacity, whole body movement that stimulates gut motility, and joint loading to maintain healthy joint cartilage. Long periods of sitting means alot of missed "good load" your body craves.
Remember – use it, or lose it!