Throughout history humans have maintained their strength, endurance and flexibility through various physical challenges provided by our environment. Today, the seated workplace has become our world. Sedentary lifestyles are the norm and eight and a half out of every 10 people will experience a bout of low back pain in their lives.
The ‘S’ curvature of our spine is designed for upright posture. It allows us to absorb the shocks associated with walking, and aligns our center of gravity. When standing, the ‘S’ curvature of the spine distributes the weight of the body onto the vertebrae, with compression of the discs between the vertebrae.
Sitting in chairs distort the ‘S’ curvature of the spine into a ‘C’ curve. This common sitting position is known as slumping. The loss of the proper ‘S’ curve causes the center of gravity to fall in front of the body, rather than on the spine. This improper distribution of weight overburdens the spine. Over time, sitting stretches ligaments that support the spine, weakens the abdominal muscles and shortens the powerful hamstring and hip flexor muscles.
Sitting also places force on structures in the spine not designed for weight bearing. The joints of the spine and discs are loaded incorrectly. Prolonged and consistent exposure to this type of postural disfigurement causes the joints and discs of the spine to degenerate and become painful.
Ironically, sitting is considered a restful activity. However, sitting at a desk is anything but restful for the back. Sitting rests the powerful muscles of the legs that don’t need much rest, while continuing to activate the muscles of the spine.
While sitting, the spine is positioned vertically, the muscles of the spine are continually working to maintain this erect posture. Since this requires energy the muscles become fatigued. Slowly, we start to collapse into a slump because it requires less energy.
There are no good work chairs. There are chairs that are better than others, but there is no such thing as a work chair that is good for your back. An ergonomic chair is a better option than a non supportive chair, but it cannot change the fact that sitting for prolonged periods is an abnormal activity.
Our anatomy is designed to permit movement, particularly walking. If we are going to spend prolonged periods sitting, we must be prepared to pay the price. That price can be back pain, or that price can be an active lifestyle away from our chairs.
Much of the damage produced by sitting for prolonged periods can be minimized through breaks every hour and activity away from the desk. Give the joints a chance to work through their full range of motion, the muscles of the spine a chance to strengthen and the muscles of the legs to stretch.
Talk to your chiropractor about your work environment, and what you can do to minimize back pain due to sitting.