The Dangers of Prolonged SittingOctober 24, 2016 • By Katherine Adams
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: