We’ve all experienced the feeling at the gym after a long days work, when there are squats or lunges programmed and we notice that our hips fatigue faster, our back feels tighter, our joints achier etc. This is not merely some coincidence, it usually stems from the fact that most of us sit 7-9 hours a day straight and then without stretching much or moving, expect our bodies to magically perform and move the way we know they can.
While we might be holding on the fact that we could bounce back and avoid pains when we were in our early 20s, the reality is that as we get older and sit more, the aches and pains are only going to get worse. Unless something is done to fix it.
We all know that sitting is a killer – leading to chronic aches and pains – but, yet we all still do it. We sit to work, we sit to drive, we sit to watch tv etc. Sitting is ingrained in our culture and lifestyle, so that’s why we aren’t going to tell you to never sit down again (that would be unrealistic).
So, if we can’t stop sitting, what can we do to help reduce chronic pain from sitting?
We asked Dr. Em for her tips on how to improve posture to reduce pain, and this is what she said: “There is no such thing as ‘The perfect posture.’ The perfect posture is one that changes.”
What does she mean by that?
Dr. Em summarizes recent research and literature for us by saying,
“ The research shows that: 1) Static loading in any sustained position can place a lot of load on your tissues, especially the longer you hold that position – regardless of whether you look as straight as a pin or are re-enacting Gollum from Lord of the Rings. 2) Pending on the length of time you hold those positions, there are structural changes that occur within your tissues and anatomy. Now, these changes are temporary, but they take much longer to recover than people give them credit for in returning to their original state. 3) If NOT given enough time to recover, this can result in a slow, progressive change in the body’s ability to tolerate load and function mechanically.
It’s one of those things where you don’t realize your body is slowly becoming more susceptible to injury because these changes happen on a molecular level within our tissues (our discs, joint capsules, ligaments, etc.). But this is the raw truth of what happens after holding sustained postures. ANY sustained posture.”
So, what’s the deal with proper ergonomics then?
Most of us by now have probably been encouraged to get an “ergonomic assessment” to improve one’s work station. But is this actually essential to improving one’s posture and decreasing injury?
According to Dr. Em, “The human race is a species designed for locomotion and movement. We were hunters and gatherers by nature. And in the last century or so, we have since morphed into a species of sedentary slouchers. And our bodies ability to bounce back from that can only go so far.”
So, while getting a better chair can help alleviate some back pack, or adjusting the height of your computer screen may reduce the strain on your neck, no amount of money spent on expensive office furniture can replace movement.
So, what should we take from this?
Dr. Em finishes by saying:
“Firstly: Motion is lotion. And we are designed for that. Movement wasn’t intended to be the “supplement” to 8 hours of sitting a day, with a 1-hour workout every (other) day. It’s not what we’re built for! Or, more to the point, what our body needs to recover from that Gollum position that we tend to permanently live in.
Remember, “the Gollum” every now and then is fine. Just like a “straightened-up” posture is fine too. But neither should be held in freeze-mode for very long.
The perfect posture is one that changes. So, in the pursuit for longevity and future-proofing our bodies, this is something we need to be aware of. And each person’s strategies to overcome this may look different! But the end goal should be the same for our bodies and staying active.
If you don’t USE it, you LOSE it.”
Ideally we could all work and move at the same time, but for most of us that’s not realistic. So, investing in a standing desk would be the next best move.
If you’re limited to a sitting station for now, review your work station, and make the necessary adjustments to improve your alignment and posture (think: long spine, core tight, shoulders back and down):
- Are you looking at your computer screen with a neutral spine? Or are you looking down/up?
- Are your feet comfortably on the ground, with 90 degrees angle at your knees?
- Are you sitting erect with a neutral spine or are you slouching?
- Are your forearms parallel to the ground or are you above/below when typing?
While improving your work station to optimize alignment may not feel comfortable at first, stick with it because your body will adapt – just like all other change you’ve experienced!
If you’re constantly battling neck, shoulder, back or knee pain (or anything else that you think may be the result of your posture), then making an adjustment to your work station will likely benefit you. Just remember that nothing replaces movement. So, set an alarm every hour and get up and move/stretch for 5 minutes! Then, when your workday is done, get outside and MOVE! While the couch may be calling your name, it won’t help you get rid of those aches and pains that have been haunting you.
Book an appointment with Dr. Em at 6S (209 Adelaide St) >>HERE.