October 31, 2022
Sitting and Spine Health – What’s the Connection?
According to a recent release from the United States Census Bureau, the number of people who report their residence as their primary workplace tripled between 2019 and 2021. Likely spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, this drastic increase in people working remotely may seem like a quality-of-life benefit to many. It certainly can be. But for most people, “home” is a place of rest – where many sedentary behaviors occur. With so much more of the workforce working from home today, many spine health experts and ergonomic specialists are wondering – how will more sitting throughout the day lead to increased spine health risks in the future?
To answer this question, it is crucial to understand why prolonged sitting is terrible for spine health. In short, the spine was designed for elongation. When the spine is elongated, the body can efficiently deliver oxygen, blood, and nourishment to the surrounding muscles, vertebrae, and discs. Sitting, in and of itself, is not a spine-elongating activity. Sitting on a couch, on a bed, or other soft surfaces for prolonged periods, the spinal vertebrae become compressed and shrunken in on themselves. Spinal compression can typically lead to problems with posture, especially while sitting. As you read that last sentence, I bet you forced yourself to sit up straighter, and I bet you noticed you had been slouching. Slumping or slouching is simply what most people do when seated, especially because many of us lack the core strength to encourage our spines into a more ergonomically healthy position.
Sitting down can seem like a passive activity, but it isn’t. Sitting for extended periods places a hefty load of unnecessary stress, particularly on the lumbar spine or low back. Additionally, the pressure placed on the spine from sitting down for too long has a cascade of additional health consequences. Tightness in the hip flexors and muscles of the buttocks and constricted blood vessels are all bad news for your back.
But there is plenty of good news for people who work from home. You are in complete control of how much you sit during the day. If prolonged sitting is the nemesis of excellent spine health, then movement and better posture are the prescription remedies. Regular exercise and stretching are essential for keeping your spine in tip-top shape; these activities are crucial for overall health and well-being. Additionally, countless studies have shown the ample benefits of gentle movement in reducing symptoms in people who experience back pain.
Getting up more throughout the day and moving around might be more challenging at first. So, if you need to set the alarm to remind yourself, ensure you get up and move your body (stretching, walking, and yoga are great options) after every 30 minutes of sitting. This “up for 30 minutes” is an excellent rule of thumb whether or not the time you spend seating is “work time.” Your spine doesn’t care about why you’re seated. It only cares that you take care of it.
As for your posture, you can take a few simple steps. First, sit up straight, with your shoulders back. Next, ensure that you’re sitting in a chair and that your buttocks touch the chair’s back. Straighten up as soon as you feel yourself slouch or slump forward. At first, set a time to check your posture every 10 minutes. You might be amazed at how much you’ll need to correct it each time you check it. But, with time and attention, it will improve – so will your spine health. Now with that said, I think I hear that alarm clock ringing. So let’s get up, stand up, and move!