A researcher and physician from Ohio State University stated in the May 25, 2013 edition of the Los Angeles Times that “Sitting is the new smoking.” citing an Australian study published in October of 2012 in the British Journal of Sport Medicine that compared sitting and smoking. The study claims that for every hour of sitting and watching television a person cuts approximately 22 minutes from their lifespan, while it is estimated that people who smoke shorten their lifespan by approximately 11 minutes per cigarette.
This information is important for patients to consider for numerous reasons, most importantly is the knowledge that our bodies just were not made to sit around as much as our current lifestyle allows. Some basic maneuvers can help many people counteract the negative effects of the aging process and a sedentary lifestyle. The basics include taking small mini-breaks, getting up from sitting position and moving around frequently, maintaining proper posture, utilizing proper lifting techniques, eating a proper diet, getting some physical activity and exercise, reducing stress, and getting adequate sleep. No one wants to grow older with neck and/or lower back pain and these simple basic measures can help combat the aging process and its negative impact on the body.
Prolonged and excessive sitting are common and potentially the cause of many chronic lower back and hip pain cases. With prolonged sitting, doctors and patients should be aware of the possibility of weak inhibited muscles and poor motor control. Many patients who sit for prolonged periods of time often develop certain muscular patterns, for example patients with lower-cross syndrome typically develop underactive gluteal and abdominal muscles as well as weak core muscles while at the same time patients develop chronic tightness in their hip flexors, hamstrings, and lower back para-spinal muscles. Consider the seated position where there is constant hip flexion. This can become a problem if a person remains in this position for a prolonged period of time, for example working a desk job, sitting for hours watching television, or our children sitting all day in the classroom. Muscles slowly adapt and over time prolonged hip flexion creates chronically tight hip flexor musculature which can affect the biomechanics of the joints and create lower back pain.
Too much sitting is bad for the back, however prolonged sitting with improper lumbar support is even worse. Prolonged slumped or flexed posture can create pressure and disruption of the disc between the vertebrae. This increased pressure can cause disc tears, bulges, and herniations. Over time the disc can become thinner, placing more pressure on the facet joints in the back, creating joint pain and muscle tightness, and setting up a vicious cycle of chronic lower back pain.
One simple recommendation is walking. Walking about 30 minutes each day can be very beneficial for the majority of patients. However, simply getting up and walking does not ensure good gluteal muscle activation and relief of lower back pain, but for the majority of patients it is helpful. Abnormal gait and other conditions also contribute to lower back pain and may have to be taken into consideration. If the pain is moderate to severe it is a good idea to consult with a medical professional and/or chiropractor. Stretches and lower back exercises may also provide some relief. Please do not attempt any positions, stretches, or exercises that cause moderate to severe pain and it is a good idea to consult a health care professional before starting any exercise routine. Less sitting and more walking are excellent ways to combat lower back pain and improve your overall quality of life.