Let’s have a talk about sitting.
The human body is not designed to be sedentary, yet our culture pushes us to sit down. Between increased smartphone usage, time spent watching TV (Netflix counts, folks!), and jobs that keep us desk-bound, the average American now spends more 8 hours a day sitting. This is a conservative figure; some sources estimate the true average is closer to 13 hours. Couple this with 8 hours of sleep, and that puts most people in the country being completely inactive for 16-21 hours a day. As you may expect, this has some serious consequences on our health.
Prolonged sitting almost always leads to poor posture decisions. Our necks crane forward, our shoulders round, our spines buckle. All of this puts unnecessary and harmful stress on our musculoskeletal system, leading to pain and altered anatomy over time. Changes that can occur include decreased mobility in the spine, weakness of the glutes, uneven compression of vertebral discs, and more. Below is a detailed look of how prolonged sitting influences our musculoskeletal system:
- Strained Neck – Craning the neck forward or looking down at a computer screen or phone increases the pressure on the cervical spine. This can lead to areas of hypo-mobility (defined as decreased movement in one or more of the joints), creating pain and discomfort. This may also lead to tension headaches.
- Sore Shoulders – When the neck comes forward, the shoulders often follow. This causes the cervical flexors and rhomboid muscles of the lower shoulder to weaken and the pectoralis muscles of the chest and the upper trapezius muscles of the shoulder to become tight, a condition called Upper Crossed Syndrome. This syndrome causes the shoulders to continue to come forward and puts pressure on the spine, causing discomfort.
- Abdominal Degeneration – Slumping in a chair doesn’t require any abdominal engagement, eventually causing the muscles to become loose and weak. Coupled with tight back muscles, this creates a pull on the spine, increasing the natural arch to unsafe levels.
- Inflexible Spine – The discs between the vertebrae in the spine are malleable to give the spine its flexibility. When sitting for prolonged periods, discs are compressed and collagen can harden around the tendons and ligaments, reducing the amount of room discs have to inhabit and keeping them in a compressed state.
- Lumbar Disc Herniation – In one of our recent blog posts we went into depth on the subject of how tight hip flexors can cause low back pain. The shortening of the psoas muscle that occurs when sitting for prolonged periods can cause massive pulling on the lumber spine, creating instances of hypo-mobility and increasing risk of disc herniation.
The musculoskeletal system takes a big hit during prolonged sitting, but there are other negative effects to our health as well, some of which are listed below:
- Heart Disease – Blood flows more slowly while sitting for long periods of time, making it easier for plaque to become lodged in the arteries. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels are likely to rise with prolonged sitting, increasing risk of heart disease.
- Increased Insulin Production – Insulin is necessary to transport glucose to cells for energy, but when too much is produced the body becomes less sensitive to it, creating a cycle of overproduction. This can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes as our cells lose responsiveness to insulin, resulting in glucose in the blood rising to dangerous levels.
- Decreased Brain Function – When we move, our muscles keep blood and oxygen circulating at appropriate speeds. Sitting for prolonged periods slows down circulation, causing less oxygen to get to our brains, decreasing function. While this is unlikely to be dangerous, it will be harder to concentrate and you may feel like your creativity is stagnant.
There are treatments for many of these ailments, but the key to health is prevention. We understand not everyone has the ability to be active throughout the day. Many of us must sit for our jobs, and in the evenings we enjoy coming home to relax. In these situations, it is crucial to break up the time spent sitting. We recommend at least 5 minutes of activity (walking, stretching) for every hour of sitting. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to stand up and move around once per hour. While mildly inconvenient, this can have huge benefits for your health. It is also important to sit with proper posture to thwart negative effects to the musculoskeletal system.
If you are reading this and recognize consequences of prolonged sitting manifesting in your body, call the proper specialist to help reverse and prevent exacerbations these conditions, a Chiropractic Physician. They will be able to assess your condition and prescribe treatment. This will often include adjustment to mobilize the joints in the spine that have a limited range of motion as well as strengthening and stretching exercises designed to improve posture. Coupled with more frequent movement throughout the day, these treatments can keep our bodies healthy, even if we must sit for work.
If you are more of a visual or audible learner, we have included links to other resources on this issue:
Eating healthy provides us with the energy to enjoy all life has to offer. There are countless motivations to clean up our diets, some of which include prevention or treatment of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, a reduction in cholesterol levels, decreased risk of stroke, and weight loss. Did you know that a healthy diet can also decrease your back and joint pain? Following an anti-inflammatory diet (such as the Mediterranean diet) can play a role in maintenance of good joint health.
There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation occurs when you injure yourself. For example, if you cut your finger, it will become inflamed. Inflammation is an important biological process that recruits the body’s immune system to prevent and fight infection while repairing physiological damage. Chronic inflammation is not as obvious as acute inflammation and has the potential to be damaging to your body. The body becomes chronically inflamed when it is constantly trying to remove harmful toxins. This can cause many issues, such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Chronic inflammation can persist and evolve into joint pain in the back, knees, hands, feet, and more, as well as make an underlying joint issue much more painful.
Thankfully, there are many ways to treat joint pain. First and foremost, visit your chiropractor. They will be able to assess the cause of your joint pain and address any dysfunctional motor patterns or muscle imbalances that are occurring. Adjustments to restore proper joint movement are crucial to recovery. The next level of defense is proper diet and exercise. An anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, can help to reduce chronic inflammation throughout the body. Not only will this ease joint discomfort, it will also reduce your risk of developing other diseases characterized by inflammation. Coupled with consistent exercise to keep joints moving properly, an anti-inflammatory diet is a lifestyle change that will keep you feeling healthy and pain free.
Foundations of an anti-inflammatory diet:
Fruits & Vegetables
The foundation to any healthy diet is fresh fruits and vegetables. Not only are fruits and veggies low in calories, but they are packed with nutrients and antioxidants. Antioxidants are a focus of the Mediterranean diet as they decrease the presence of harmful free radicals in the body, greatly reducing inflammation. All fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, but those with bright colors pack the highest nutritional punch.
Nuts & Seeds
The Mediterranean diet includes nuts and seeds because of their high levels of anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fat. While high in calories and fat, nuts can help you maintain a healthy weight as they contain plenty of protein, fiber, and fat, all of which help to keep you satiated. The recommended serving is about 1.5 ounces a day, which is the equivalent of a handful. The best nuts and seeds to eat are walnuts, almonds, pistachios, chia seeds, and flax seeds.
Fish is an absolute staple in Mediterranean cuisine due to their omega-3 fatty acid content. Omega-3 fatty acids aid in treatment and prevention of many health ailments, namely by reducing inflammation. The Standard American Diet (aptly abbreviated as ‘SAD’) is heavy in omega-6 fatty acid foods such as vegetable oil, margarine, and other processed fats. While omega-6 is also crucial to our health, it must be maintained in proper balance with omega-3. When this ratio is skewed too far in favor of omega-6, the body becomes inflamed. Increasing the amount of fish in your diet can help to balance the amount of omega-3 to omega-6 in your body. Seafood that is highest in omega-3 is salmon, tuna, mackerel, and herring. Don’t like fish? A fish oil supplement can still provide the benefits without the flavor.
Full of healthy monounsaturated fat and antioxidants, olive oil is the cooking fat of choice in anti-inflammatory diets. Substitute olive oil for vegetable oil or butter when cooking, and make olive oil based vinaigrettes for salad dressings. Extra virgin, cold-pressed oils are the best as they are minimally processed and therefore retain their nutrients.
Beans & Legumes
Superstars in a vegetarian diet, beans and legumes are praised for their high levels of protein and fiber. Beyond their satiating characteristics, legumes have been shown to decrease C-reactive protein levels, an inflammatory marker in the blood. Including legumes in the diet several times per week is a great way to decrease inflammation and help cut down on grocery bills when used as a substitute for expensive meats.
Whole grains form a base for all of the delicious, anti-inflammatory foods eaten in this diet. Whole grains are rich in fiber and phytonutrients and have also been shown to reduce inflammation. It is best to pick grains closest to their natural state, such as bulgur, rye, steel cut oats, quinoa, and brown rice. Some people may have sensitivities to grains such as wheat, oats, and rye; in this case these should be avoided. Bread and pasta, even when whole grain, should be eaten in limited quantities.
If you choose to imbibe, red wine is the way to go. The beverage contains the antioxidant resveratrol, making it an appropriate choice for a low inflammatory diet. Most other alcohols increase inflammation and should therefore be limited. As always, moderation is crucial. Too much of any alcohol is detrimental to health.
Foods to limit:
Several groups of foods fuel inflammation and should be eliminated or eaten very sparingly to reap the most benefit from an anti-inflammatory diet. Fried foods and processed foods should be avoided to reduce the amount of hydrogenated oils and preservatives you are ingesting. Refined grains and sugars are also discouraged. This includes foods such as bread, pasta, pastries, soda and other sugary beverages, and sweets. A treat every once awhile is okay, but extreme moderation is recommended. Red meat, especially fatty meats like bacon, should be eaten only on occasion. The saturated fat in these foods creates inflammation in our bodies. Lastly, dairy and eggs can be eaten a few times a week, but try to stick to low fat Greek yogurt and fresh cheeses and eggs if you can. These foods aren’t innately unhealthy, but the saturated fat they contain does contribute to chronic inflammation.
Diet plays an important role in our overall health. An anti-inflammatory diet will ease joint discomfort by reducing the pressure within your joints and by helping you to lose any unnecessary weight, reducing the strain placed on your joints. While these benefits will make a considerable difference, it is unlikely that diet alone will eliminate your back and joint pain. However, it can reinforce other treatments and provide a foundation of wellness. Lowering chronic inflammation allows the body to better heal itself. This increases the effectiveness of chiropractic adjustment, as the body is more responsive to the treatment and better able to adapt to the new patterns adjustment creates. When your body has an increased ability to heal itself, you will spend less time in the doctor’s office and more time living a pain free life!
As you all know, Dr. Olsen is an expert in back and joint pain and wants to see you feel better! And with a background in nutrition and dietetics, I would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about anti-inflammatory diets. If you have any questions regarding this post or your joint pain, please don’t hesitate to call our office at 615-650-6533.
Low back pain can come from a variety of sources, but are you aware that one of the most common triggers of low back pain is tight hip flexors? Let’s look into the anatomy of this issue, the causes, and the solution.
It takes multiple muscles to flex our hips, the dominant two being the iliacus and psoas major – together referred to as the iliopsoas. The iliacus runs down the front of the hip and inserts on the femur. The psoas major also inserts on femur and it wraps around to the back of the body, connecting to the lumbar spine, specifically to the T12 and L1-L5 vertebrae. When the iliopsoas shortens, or flexes, the knee is brought up toward the chest.
When discussing this issue, it is important to remember that muscles that remain in their shortened position for prolonged periods of time tend to stay shortened, or “tight,” when they are given the ability to lengthen. A tight iliopsoas that has been in a shortened position will resist lengthening, resulting in pulling on the spine, compressing the disks and causing stress. This will begin to limit the mobility of the spine. Over time, this can lead to serious pain or tightness in the low back, sometimes accompanied by pain or awareness of tightness in the hips.
Tight iliopsoas muscles are common in bikers and runners. Knowing the anatomy and physiology of the hips as described above, this makes sense! These athletes are pulling their knees toward their chest with every step or peddle. However, the muscles do not need to be actively contracting to tighten in the shortened position. When we sit at a desk, drive a car, or sleep in the fetal position our iliopsoas is in the same contacted position as someone who is out running or biking. Unfortunately the average person sitting or sleeping doesn’t think to stretch out these muscles because they aren’t usually sore, leading to tightness and pain in the spine over time.
Thankfully, this issue can treated and maintained to eliminate pain. Chiropractic adjustment is crucial to prolonged relief from tight hip flexors. As the iliopsoas compresses the spine over time, the joints lose their mobility. This causes the muscles to tighten even more, forming a splint of sorts for the immobilized spine joints. An adjustment will get the joints moving correctly, allowing the muscles holding them in place to release. Stretching is then more effective as the muscles have a greater ability to lengthen when they are not being told by the brain that they are needed to stabilize the spine. Not only does pain often immediately decrease following an adjustment, a chiropractor will work with you to eliminate the dysfunctional patterns causing the issue, not just relieve the symptoms.
Along with chiropractic adjustment to mobilize the strained disks in the spine, stretching tight iliopsoas regularly will greatly reduce pain and improve biomechanics throughout the lower body. There are multiple methods to stretch the iliopsoas muscles; two of the most effective are deep lunges and foam rolling.
To perform the lunge stretch, begin by kneeling on the floor. Place one foot on the ground with the knee stacked over the ankle. The knee that is still on the ground should be at an angle slightly more than 90°. Be sure to keep the hips square to front of the body. Keeping the upper body straight, gently push the hips forward. Perform this stretch 3-5 times per day on each side.
Another passive way to release the hip flexors is to foam roll the area. This massages the muscles, increasing circulation and oxygen flow and releasing tension. Here is a link to a YouTube video on the proper method of rolling the psoas muscles.
The most important therapy to treat and prevent tight hip flexors is to stand up and move around! If you work at a desk or drive frequently, make sure to get up and walk around at least once an hour. Bonus points if you perform any iliopsoas stretches while you are up!
- Tight hip flexors are a major cause of low back pain.
- Hip flexors can become tight from running, biking, and most importantly: sitting for prolonged periods.
- To relieve back pain caused by this issue, visit us for an adjustment to mobilize the lumbar spine and STRETCH your hip flexors!
- Prevention is key! Make sure to stand up at least once an hour and move around to lengthen your iliopsoas.
If you have any questions regarding this post or think you may be suffering from tight hip flexors, call us at the office at 615-650-6533. We would be happy to tell you more, demonstrate stretches or foam rolling techniques, and help you get rid of your low back pain.
Some embrace it, some resist it. After going through the five stages of grief when Meghan departed, East End Chiropractic has decided to embrace change. First we had Dr. John running around the office, doing it all. Then our friend Chris, the famous patient behind the desk, stepped in to help.
Next is where I come in. I am Katherine, the new office manager here at East End Chiropractic. Dr. John can now focus on what he does best – treating you – and Chris has returned to his position crafting tunes and sleeping late.
A little about me
I am a recent Tennessee transplant originally from Maine. I moved to Nashville in August 2015 with my husband, Wilson, and our two cats, Angus and Calvin. Prior to relocating I earned my degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Maine. While Wilson spends his days in graduate school at Vanderbilt, I have been coming to know and love Nashville. I worked a few odd jobs before finding myself here, comfortably sitting behind the desk at EEC (Dr. John picked a chair with excellent back support).
From this point forward I will be the voice on the phone, the scheduler of appointments, and the gal greeting you in the office. A certified queen of organization and lover of all things structured, I am ready to take on the challenge of navigating the ins and outs of EEC. I am refining my expertise in deciphering insurance benefits and in writing twitter posts, all to better serve you!
If you’d like to learn more about me, check out our MEET THE TEAM page on the website. Better yet, just ask! I love talking about food, things to do around Nashville, and how much cooler the summers are in Maine.
Thank you for understanding as the practice has gone through this period of adjustment. Change can be tough, but you have all taken it in strides!
I’m Chris. Some of you may have met me, or talked to me on the phone, in the past couple weeks. I’ve been a patient of Dr. John’s since I moved to Nashville almost 3 years ago. He has taken excellent care of me, as I’m sure he has for you as well.
When Meghan Jones – the face that East End patients are accustomed to being greeted by – moved on to a new career recently, I came in for my appointment to find Dr. John quite busy… possibly a bit overwhelmed. He was handling all of the office responsibilities while treating his usual busy schedule of patients. So, I offered to help. I’m a freelancer who’s lucky enough to make my own schedule, so why not get in the good graces of the guy who keeps my neck and shoulders working properly? Right?
I was glad he took me up on it, despite my being entirely unqualified for the position. I’m not a morning person, I have almost zero office experience, and I’m a creative-type — so organizational duties aren’t my strong suit. Regardless of all that, I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity. Not only have I gotten to know Dr. John a bit better, but meeting the people he helps function more effectively and comfortably has been a blast. You are all so friendly!
What I’ve found most inspiring about working at East End Chiropractic is that nobody seems to bring their stress here. It truly is a positive environment. People come in looking forward to chatting with Dr. John, getting treated, and going about their day feeling better. As much as setting an alarm clock for 7:00am pains me, seeing the relief each patient expresses from chiropractic care has made it worth the effort. I leave the office in a great mood each day, feeling like I’ve taken a small part in something that improves people’s lives.
As East End Chiropractic’s new office manager prepares to begin her tenure, I just wanted to express my gratitude to everyone who’s welcomed me, engaged me in conversation, and shown patience with me while I’ve tried to fill the shoes of a true pro.
Thanks! See you in the waiting room!