Sitting, in general, is a static posture that increases stress in the back, shoulders, arms, and legs. When sitting in an office chair for a long period, the natural tendency for most people is to slouch over in the chair. This “slouching” posture can overstretch the spinal ligaments and strain the discs and surrounding structures in the spine. With poor posture, the following issues can occur:
If most of the sitting occurs at a desk at work, craning the neck forward toward a keyboard or tilting the head to cradle a phone while typing can strain the cervical vertebrae and lead to permanent imbalances.
SORE SHOULDERS AND BACK
The neck doesn’t slouch alone. Slumping forward overextends shoulder and back muscles as well, particularly the trapezius, which connects the neck and shoulders.
When we move, soft discs between vertebrae expand and contract like sponges, soaking up fresh blood and nutrients. But when we sit for a long time, discs are squashed unevenly. Collagen hardens around tendons and ligaments causing inflexibility in the spine.
People who sit more are at greater risk for herniated lumbar disks. A muscle called the psoas travels through the abdominal cavity and, when it tightens, pulls the upper lumbar spine forward. Upper-body weight rests entirely on the ischial tuberosity (sitting bones) instead of being distributed along the arch of the spine.
If you have to sit often, try to do it correctly. As Mom always said, “Sit up straight.” Focusing on your posture plays a large roll in preventing low back pain and worsening existing back problems. The right way to sit should look something like:
- Not leaning forward
- Shoulders relaxed
- Arms close to sides
- Elbows bent 90°
- Lower back may be supported
- Feet flat on floor
For most office professionals who spend upwards of eight hours per day at a desk, a good chair is the most important work tool. An ergonomic office chair is a tool that, when used properly, can help maximize back support and maintain good posture while sitting. However, simply owning an ergonomic office chair is not enough – it is also necessary to adjust the office chair to the proportions of your body to improve comfort and reduce aggravation to the spine.
There are many factors to consider when choosing an ergonomic chair: the right chair should fit your body and accommodate your work style, support you in the areas you need it most and encourage a healthy sitting posture. The National Institute of Health recommends choosing a chair with all of the necessary adjustments to support proper posture, including:
- Casters and a five-point base
- A seat pan with dense, small-cell foam padding or coils
- A backrest that is either curved or small enough to fit the small of the back
- Soft armrests with an adjustable height and width
- A hydraulic seat heat adjustment feature
- A tilt adjustment to transfer some body weight to the chair’s backrest
To avoid keeping the back in one position for a long period, remember to stand, stretch and walk for at least a minute or two every half hour. A quick stretch or minimal movement can do wonders. If you can fit in a twenty-minute walk, even better! This type of activity during the workday will help promote healthy blood flow that brings important nutrients to your spinal structure. Basically, just don’t sit in the same position for 8 straight hours!
Think about how many hours of your life have been spent sitting in chairs. The number is surely staggering. Fortunately, there is a lot Pain and Spine Specialists of Maryland can do to mitigate the long-term effects of excessive sitting and keep our mind and body in excellent shape no matter the work type.