The cause, solution, and ergonomics of neck, back, and shoulder pain brought on by jobs that force workers to say seated for extended periods of time.

According to the National Institute for Health, sitting for too long has a serious negative impact on our health regardless of how much physical activity we get.  Curr Cardiovasc Risk Rep. 2008 Jul;2(4):292-298.

Who would think the simple act of sitting could really harm us, but too much of anything can be harmful.  As technology catapults us into the next century, we sit for hours at desks, tables, and couches in front of computers.  We drop our heads with hand held devices, and over time, both cause a loss to the natural curve of our cervical vertebrae.  Our necks start to ache and our back muscles compensate, leaving us with achy, weak muscles and with decreased range of motion. Our hip flexors (the crease of our leg as we sit) become short and tight in a sitting position, and because these are big and fibrous they pull the other smaller muscles in our hip girdle and lower back causing muscle imbalances, sore backs, hips, knees and ankles.  Our core becomes weaker as we slump forward and this perpetuates the whole cycle. This increases our risk of injury, and a simple act of bending forward for a pencil may launch our bodies into spasm.  

Productivity, deadlines or gaming and social media (our sometimes break from productivity and deadlines) compel us to stay in this posture for increasingly longer periods of time.  We become less effective as we sag in front of our screens.  Remember that your productivity is directly connected to how good you feel.  Most of us don’t get much done when we don’t feel well.  Be sure to take care of your physical self by interrupting your sitting throughout the day.  If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to get outside during your lunch, encourage your co-workers and colleagues to start a walking club, or maybe just take some quiet time and head out solo.  If something needs to be delivered down the hall, upstairs or another building schedule this to interrupt your sitting so you don’t lose productivity, but you still get to move.  While many people complain about the inconvenience, drinking the recommended amount of water can ensure that you frequently get up to use the restroom – a double win.   Google some exercises and stretches or consult a professional to develop a stretch routine that can be done intermittently in combination with regular physical breaks.  

Sitting, at a desk or even behind the wheel, for extended periods of time can have serious health impacts other than our immediate physical discomfort and increased risk of injury.  NIH reports that sitting time has a negative impact on the cardiovascular system and metabolic effects even when someone exercises regularly.  Any movement can be good for you.  Just because your neighbor is running 10 miles a day doesn’t mean that you must be at that level or you don’t measure up.  Stretching, walking or any moderate forms of movement are beneficial.  Yoga comes in many different styles, and striking a pose during work may be incredibly helpful during a long stretch of sitting!  When you start to ache, start to move!

Anne Rollins MS RD CSSD LDN

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