The human body was designed to be active and moving throughout the majority of the day – not hunched over in a seated position at a desk or workstation. When we think back to our ancestors, they were constantly on the move, whether it was out on the farm harvesting, tending to livestock, walking, cooking, playing in the fields, etc. As a race we have evolved into a generation living in a world consumed by a technology-rich culture. We are engulfed in a world of tablets, computers and cell phones… Our entire way of living invites us to ‘take a seat’.
Research has shown that our ancestors were both healthier & happier than we are today. Why? They lived a completely different lifestyle. Their work environments were different, they socialized differently and didn’t have access to the resources that we do today. One main complaint often seen in today’s society is the increasing prevalence of back pain and associated problems. Workers of the computer generation tend to sit at a desk all day, averaging approximately 10 hours a day in a seated position (at home, eating lunch, at work). A statement released by the British Journal of Sports Medicine describes that we should stand, move and take breaks at least every 2 hours, the more the better.
So what exactly happens when we sit for too long?
Prolonged sitting can cause us to suffer from back pain, along with the possibility of worsening a pre-existing condition. The reason for this is that when we sit in a chair we are in a static (non-moving) posture, adding large amounts of stress and pressure to our back muscles, vertebrae and discs. As time spent in a seated position increases, we tend to fatigue, leading to poor posture (often seen as a slumped position with rounded shoulders). Over time repetitive poor posture leads to forming of habits, which can overstretch spinal ligaments, place strain on our lumbar discs and surrounding structures, lead to compensatory shortening/tightness of our hip flexors, erector spinae muscles, and pectorals (chest), in turn weakening our core postural stabilizers.
Top tips for correct & aligned seated posture:
- When you are seated, your elbows should have a 75-90 degree bend in them. If you are above or below this try adjusting the height of your chair.
- You should have a 90 degree or less angle of hip flexion.
- Are both your feet evenly placed on the floor? If your chair height or work station makes this a problem you can use a footrest under your desk.
- Keep mobile! Make your workstation so that you have to get up often eg. Put the printer in another room, so you have to get up and walk when you print anything out. Another good idea is to put a post-it note at the top of your monitor/screen reminding you to ‘Get up and Move’ – aim for 10mins every hour.
- Keep your shoulders back. Forward (protracted) shoulders leads to an increase in flexion of the thoracic spine adding loading forces, which can lead to pain.
- Have and maintain consistency with a good functional strength training program. If you are not sure what you should be doing, ask your healthcare professional. Strengthening your postural stabilizers (core & mid-back) will help to make sure that your posture remains in correct alignment, helping to keep you pain free.
- Form a habit of doing isolated core activations at your workstation every hour. Remember that your deep core muscles are your corset and give your lower spine its support structure.
- Keep well hydrated. Not only is this great for your overall health, but it will also require you to get up and move for bathroom breaks!
How do we improve our back strength and rid ourselves of possible back pain?
The Total Gym system is fantastic for working on addressing both spinal mobility and back-strengthening exercises. By working on our core we give our spine the stability it needs to unload our lumbar vertebrae and discs. Strengthening our mid-back muscles enables us to keep our shoulders back and not fall into a slumped over position. Stretching is also just as important and you will see in the following video the best stretches and strengthening exercises to improve your back function and keep you aligned.
Remember that movement is your best friend!