A lot of people spend a large majority of the day sitting down, which we all know can cause pain and discomfort if done improperly. However, many people are unaware of the negative effects bad ergonomics can have on other parts of the body. This week, we look at the issues from head to toe and how occupational physiotherapy can help.
The Head & Shoulders
Although your first thoughts when considering issues caused by sitting may be of the physical effects, there are numerous issues that can be caused in the head. Sitting for long periods of time stops muscles from moving oxygen and blood round the body and up to the brain. When we remain sedentary for extended periods of time, brain function slows and the pumping of naturally occurring mood-enhancing chemicals stops, creating a foggy and tired mind.
The neck is the next step down the body to receive a barrage of negative elements from extended sitting. Many office workers tend to crane the neck forward to use keyboards or to see a screen better, and they are often required to talk on the phone while typing which involves placing the neck in an unnatural position. This can cause pain and discomfort as well as straining vertebrae which can result in permanent imbalances. The shoulders are also over-extended when slouching at a desk, and have the ability to cause permanent damage if done frequently.
We understand that many office workers are often subjected to extended periods of being still yet do not always realise when they are in a position which is causing damage. The back is one of the biggest culprits in terms of pain and discomfort but it can sometimes only be noticed when a person moves from the sedentary position and tries to relax the muscles. When a person sits still and therefore does not move their spine, it can become less flexible making it far more likely for damage to occur with sudden movement.
The discs and vertebrae in the back move and contract soaking up fresh nutrients, however sitting can stop this from happening, rather causing the discs to be unevenly pressed and lose their sponge-like absorption. The possibilities of herniated lumbar discs are also increased as upper-body weight relies entirely on the sitting bones instead of being distributed along the spine.
The Organs & Muscles
You may also not realise the damage that is being done to internal organs when sitting all day. Moving muscles helps increase blood flow and therefore decease the chances of heart-related issues such as cardiovascular disease. There is also a chance that non-active muscles will not be able to readily respond to the insulin produced by the pancreas, which in turn can lead to an over-production of insulin; this may then lead to diabetes. In fact, one recent study found that a decline in insulin response can be seen after just one day of extended sitting.
The muscles in the body can also be seriously affected as they receive little stimulation to aid with increasing strength and flexibility. The abs are rarely worked on when sitting which means that one is more likely to get a flabby tummy, as well as the obvious degeneration of muscles. Moreover, the pelvis is likely to be affected as the hip joints do not get exercised, which can lead to serious issues as people get older and less mobile.
How to Sit Right
There are numerous ways to improve sitting techniques at work, as well as a few exercises for personal time which can help prolong the effects. At work, sit up straight and keep feet flat on the ground. Do not lean forward and try and keep arms at a 90 degree angle, lessening the need to bend or crane the neck and back. Add some support to your lower back in the form of a cushion or better quality office chair.
For office workers who go straight from work to the sofa for television and relaxation, it is important to be mindful of the hours being spent off your feet. Try walking around during the advert breaks, doing a little light tidying and working out the tired muscles. This gives your body a chance to work a bit without being too tiring after a long day. Some people like to sit on an exercise ball when they work, particularly from home, as it encourages straight-up sitting and works both the abs and back without being too strenuous.
There are ways to embrace a healthier lifestyle while sitting at work, one such was is simply being careful to watch out for positions that can cause damage. Just a few days of a revised sitting technique can make a huge difference to your overall physical wellbeing, making the workday feel less stressful for your mind as well as your muscles!
16th April, 2015