We get this question a lot from patients, but also from friends, relatives, friends of friends, etc. There is so much information out there, often conflicting, it can be paralysis by analysis. We think most of us are aware of the adage, “sitting is the new smoking.” We don’t want to spread a fear of sitting. Awareness would be a more useful term for me to use. Here’s a potential surprise for some folks out there. Sitting might provide relief for some spinal conditions... yes it’s true.
Now all of this is coming from yours truly, who avoids sitting in chairs, prefers doing exercises on the floor as opposed to sitting on a couch, and consistently gives the advice to avoid sitting in chairs for too long throughout the day. The reason I behave this way is many structures typically injured in the lower back are on the posterior, or back side of the spine. A sitting position puts a constant stretch on those structures.
The problem of creep:
Our tissues have a quality known as “hysteresis” or “creep.” This is a gradual elongation of tissues under sustained pressure. Think of silly putty you stick against a wall. If you leave it there for several hours, it will be longer because the effect of gravity lengthens it out. Our ligaments and tendons have this same capability. But when living tissues undergo stretching because of creep, they also weaken.
Sitting in a slouched position will feel good at first, but over time it’ll cause you substantial problems. One study theorized, based on the innervation seen in spinal ligaments, this repeated or sustained stretch could disrupt your ability to stabilize your spine during regular movements. When your body senses a more limited ability to stabilize, your body will overreact in the form of a muscle spasm.
How can you stop this cycle from occurring?
By changing your position frequently throughout the day! Change your position every 20 minutes. This doesn’t always mean going from sitting to standing or walking around, but those are good practices if you can commit to them. Unfortunately, some of you are stuck in long meetings or in a car and it’s impractical to stand every 20 minutes. However, you can always take a moment to scoot your bottom further back in the chair and make sure you’re using a proper backrest for support. A simple change can go a long way to ensure your spinal health.
Most people have 3 key places they sit most frequently:
- Office chair
- Favorite chair at home
In the next 24 hours, set a challenge for yourself: choose just one of those spots and don’t sit in it for over 20 minutes at a time without getting up. Set a timer on your phone and don’t give yourself excuses.
Physiological change takes time. If you can commit to this one change, it opens up the possibility for other positive changes.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.