How To Move Without Pain

Is the amount of time you sit hurting your health?

by Meghan Griech, PT, DPT, cert MDT, CKTP

This article takes 6 minutes to read

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Between driving, eating, working at a desk, relaxing, watching tv; we sit a lot.

A lot more than we realize, and it adds up quickly.

Studies show we sit more than 51 hours a week.  Assuming that we sleep 8 hours a day, that equates to nearly half of our awake time sitting!

Sitting for prolonged periods of time has been linked over and over to changes in our cardiovascular strength, endurance and overall health. 

But what does chronic sitting and sedentary positions do to our joints?

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Let’s start from the bottom, with what generally happens to the muscles and connective tissues with prolonged positions and posturing. If you hold yourself in a posture for a period of time, our body’s  fatigue, and tension builds potentially leading to  muscle spasms.

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Static muscles that stay in the same position for long periods of time lose flexibility and overall tissue extensibility. Tight tissues cause reduced joint mobility, increased tension on the joints, and overall difficulty with movement.

Sitting promotes flexion at the hips and the knee. After long periods of time in this position, our muscles can adaptively shorten. For example, the hip flexor muscles (such as the Psoas) attach to the  lumbar spine. Therefore, if these muscles are tight and shortened, added pain and stress can be felt in the low back, leading to difficulty or limitations with standing up straight.

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Over time, this may lead to low back pain, which leads to limitations in standing/walking/ activity tolerance, which then can lead to more sitting due to the pain – see the cycle?

Now let’s think about the back musculature. If you periodically change your posture to sit up tall, both your back muscles and abdominals are engaged to maintain the new position. The joints are now stacked on top of each other, and your joints are supported and maintain the proper tissue tension.

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Prolonged sitting, causes muscles to fatigue due to the prolonged time in one position.

If you fatigue your spinal muscles, then your body will fall or slouch, causing your lumbar spine to flatten or round which changes the complete posture of the thoracic (mid-back) and cervical (neck) vertebra position.

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This leads to a rounded upper back and shoulders.  To compensate, the lower cervical spine flexes while the upper cervical spine extends to keep the head up. Now your head is too far in front of the body, so you feel like you have a 15# bowling ball on your neck.  For some people, this can lead to a whole pattern of aches and pains.  Maybe:

  • Your jaw hurts.
  • Your shoulders are tense
  • You feel like you can’t take a deep breathe
  • Your low back feels tight and stiff
  • You feel tired
  • Your productivity falls
  • You are down and depressed about how your body feels and how you are doing at work
  • Your body hurts when you get up and move around
  • You feel stiff as a board

Our bodies are made to move.

Movement helps our body make the ‘feel good hormones’ and endorphins that are stimulated with activity. The joints thrive on movement, as movement is what causes their self lubrication to continue. 

Tight muscles and joint stiffness can turn into difficulty walking, falls, progressive weakness, and joint pain.

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Luckily, this does not have to be your fate.  Making a conscious effort to incorporate some activity and change in positions can prevent any of these effects.  Remember, there isn’t just one ideal posture. But your next posture, could be your best posture. 

Even sitting up tall and straight (just like our mom’s harped on us to do) can have negative effects if we stay in this position too long

*Disclaimer: All information in this article is intended for instruction and informational purposes. The author(s) are not responsible for any harm or injury that may result.  This information is used to supplement not replace any advice you were provided from your doctor or another medical health professional.  No guarantees of specific results are expressly made or implied with this article.

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