We were born to move. Yet many of you will sit for more than 8 hours every day. The world is not designed for you to sit down. Yet this is the social norm that we now have come to accept. When we were children we had full range of movement and yet we teach our children to become immovable objects like us. We buy small chairs for them to watch television screens, they sit in their small seats in the car, they sit in Montessori and primary school and as soon as secondary school come around we can physically see the lack of flexibility creeping into their movement patterns.
Sitting dates back to the Egyptian pharaohs when they were used to lift the wealthy above the poor. Before that we all squatted doing everything. Eating, working and communication was all done squatting or standing.
Chairs therefore are a instrument for the wealthy and by the 1800’s and the birth of the industrial revolution chairs quickly became the norm. They were easy to produce and were a must have item for all. By the 1900’s they were everywhere and everyone had chairs. Now we love them so much we sit for on average 8.9 hours a day, sleep an average of seven hours, light activity makes up 7.75 hours and vigorous activity makes up 15 minutes.
I’m sure when you were younger like myself you were constantly reminded to “sit up straight”, “engage your core”, get you elbows off the table”, “pull your shoulders back and look up”. Your parents were essentially prioritising your spine. However well-meaning these comments where in order to priorities your spine you must understand what the correct posture is. And by just “Sitting up straight” you do not have good posture. The human Spine is meant to be curved. However the issue is the seated position can cause excessive posterior curve in the lumbar of the back resulting in knock on effects up through the spine.
The big problem is sitting. We sit everywhere, on public transport, in our cars at our desks when going to the toilet, at the kitchen table, watching television. This is a cultural norm now yet this movement is abnormal to us as humans. Understanding what your body’s posture should be when sitting and standing will allow us to know how a strong healthy body is meant to move or hold itself when seated.
This is really how to prioritise the spine. Author Jim Rohn said “Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live” and I couldn’t agree more. Below the image on the left highlights how the pelvis in a seated position will posteriorly tilt causing our lower back to sink into the seat. Here in lies the main problem. As the torso sits on the pelvis, any movement in the pelvic will affect the spine above it. Anterior (forward) tilt will result in opening up of the abdominal area although this position will not be held for long as it take concentration and people will tend to over arch their lower back causing discomfort and pain if held for long periods. Hands up at a computer will cause rounding of shoulders which will stretch your shoulder blades and leave to your head falling forward adding pressure to the neck and upper back.
Some of the most common injuries related to prolonged sitting include lower back pain, shoulders pain, neck and wrist pain. This position repeated being held is literally changing the shape of your skeleton. This in turn affects your posture and will shorten and lengthen your muscle which is where the pain will occur.
Is sitting is the new smoking? The ESRI recently release a report titled: “Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders and Stress, Anxiety and Depression in Ireland: Evidence from the QNHS 2002–2013.”
It found that with relation to MSD that:
- ”In 2013, an estimated 55,000 workers in Ireland suffered from a work-related illness, resulting in the loss of 790,000 days of work.”
- The average length of absence was 15.9 days for MSD (Musculoskeletal Disorders)
- The rates of both illnesses, especially MSD, increased during the economic boom years
- Workers aged 35 to 64 years have the highest risk of MSD and are 2.5 times more likely to experience such illnesses than workers aged less than 25 years.
These statistics are not directly attributed to sitting and relate more to the agriculture and construction industry. But when we talk about musculoskeletal we are talking about alignment of our bodies and correct posture. When we work we will be doing a repeated action or movement. The important point is to understand what will and will not compromise that alignment. If your movement is compromised you will get stiff from lack of Range of Movement (ROM) or will injure a body part. The construction industry may raise different issues to sitting however the same points of miss-alignment arise. It is also worth noting the large number of people that missed work and also the rate increased as people got busier. Money seems to be the driving force of getting injured and we do not care if we get injured once we are making money. (I don’t have time or “I would look ridiculous if I did that in the office”).This correlates with the age category of 35+ that may have started to give up on exercise and playing sports in order to remain fit. I would argue that with a little knowledge of understanding alignment and placing huge self-importance on your bodies’ alignment while working lifting, push etc that you can continue to get busier while also being self-conscious about your body spine and the adjoining limbs, muscles and ligaments.
So what are the issues to Sitting?
1-When we sit at a desk we are doing a repeated action: Sitting therefore causes muscles certain muscles to stretch and the opposing muscle is to shorten. This in turn creates bad posture.
2-Lack of movement makes you lethargic as the oxygen in your blood is not flowing around the body freely
3- Slow down your Metabolism. We are inactive for over 16 hours a day and sit in one position longer than we sleep. Metabolism is the rate at which our bodies use energy for physical and chemical process within our bodies. When we sit for long periods of time enzymes that break down fat decrease in effectiveness, good cholesterol fats decrease also and or insulin hormone is not as effective. (Not good if you’re munching on sugary snacks while working)
4-Pelvis tilting is inevitable when we sit. This is what affects the rest of the spine and causes many of the problems associated with sitting. When we sit the pelvis posteriorly tilts causing our lower back to sink into the seat. This is why some chairs have C shaped lower back rests. However if a chair causes your lower back to also make this C shape as it should then on the opposite side you should have a strong core. By that I mean the deep stabilising muscle of the spine (Transversus Abdominis, Multifidus & Pelvic Floor) which will stop the upper trunk from falling forward. A chair cannot do all this and the answer will never be to try and fix this problem with a new chair as the focus needs to be on the body. Therefore develop a strong body through training, understand how your body works and identify symptoms and Move frequently.
Solution to Sitting
- Don’t Sit to long!!! Im Einstein, I know!!!
- Try and sit with correct form. This will mean you must understand what a strong posture is for a seated and standing position.
- Move every 20-30mins. Options could be a walk around the office or a basic opening the body up movement routine. (like a set of mini yoga poses or Asana)
- You will need to develop a Strong Core and Upper Back
- Understand how to pelvic tilt
- If possible develop a culture of movement in the office. So it is not “weird” if Brian or Sheila beside you starts doing a range of stretching and movement exercises.
So what is the history to sitting?
Language of movement is bigger than the language of learning language ……