Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sitting Posture

Ever been to a ball game and it comes time for a seventh inning stretch?

             Well too bad our life doesn’t have a seventh inning stretch or at least our day jobs. As if work isn’t bad enough, studies have shown sitting for prolonged periods of time can lead to some health problems, particularly in your lower back.

Remember your mom telling you to sit up straight at the dinner table and not to slouch?
            Well, although that does represent an ideal posture in our everyday life in the long run it is actually better to slouch a little bit. Any posture that is maintained for a long period of time, whether it is slouching, sitting up straight or even leaning to one side puts our body through an adjustment process. In the science world this is known as the “creep” phenomenon.  That is because as you are trying your hardest to maintain that upright position while you are sitting soft tissues over time begin to move and creep to conform to your posture. It is the same principle that’s applied to your dentist giving you braces to straighten your teeth.
            To elaborate further, your back consists of little bones called vertebrae which stack up on one another. The area in between these vertebrae are called disc. Ever hear of a herniated disc?  That’s when the soft, jelly-like center of the disc ruptures through the firmer outer layer. Almost like the cream coming out of a Boston cream doughnut…well not exactly.

What does this have to do with me sitting all day?
            When you sit for a long period of time this jelly center starts to “creep” its way to the back of your disc. This is because usually when people sit they bend their back slightly forward allowing this part of the disc to move. Doing this years on end may predispose someone to this type of injury. Especially if you’re a worker that transfers from this seated position to a heavy lifting type of job very quickly. That is because now you not allowing the disc time to shift back in place. So now you go to lift something and BAM herniated disc. This is very popular in ambulance drivers that drive or sit their entire shifts and then have to carry a person at the scene of an accident. This can also be applied to a construction worker who now goes from sitting in a truck for 8 hours and is then asked to help with a project requiring lifting. The debate is even brought up with workers compensation boards. A worker who was bending over to lift on the job for many years now puts their back in such a state for this injury to occur. Then off the job one day the worker sneezes and gets a herniated disc. Although the injury didn’t occur at work his occupation put him at risk for this injury.

So what can I do?

            Well a couple of tips to help prevent your back from these biomechanical changes. First, and foremost GET OUT OF THE CHAIR. Try standing when your phone rings to talk to customers and take trips to the water cooler when you can. If you work in an industrial setting, try to stand on your break time. Secondly, do something that contrasts to your sitting posture such as while you’re standing try stretching your back by reaching for the ceiling or extending your arms to the wall behind you. Thirdly, get a good ergonomic chair. This can be anything depending on who you talk to but mostly try to get a chair in which the seat pan, back rest and height can be adjusted in multiple ways and shift the posture of your seat many times throughout the day. Fourth of all if you cannot stand at all you may want to consider a lumbar back support. These have been shown in research to help very little. When they do work it has often been attributed to the fact that it makes the worker more aware of their posture.
            It’s important to note these suggestions are for an individual trying to prevent a back injury. Such suggestions do not guarantee a lifetime free of back pain. Furthermore, certain conditions can override these friendly tips. If concerned about having one of these conditions or just obtaining more on ways to counteract the problem speak to your local chiropractor about your options.

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