How The Way You Sit Affects Your Spine And What To Do About It...
Written by The Back-in-Action Team
When you are struggling to sit for long enough to do your work or relax to enjoy some TV it’s very frustrating. Chronic aches and pains affect your mood and how effective you can be each day.
The way you sit makes your joints and muscles tense up in different ways. If you want to stay fit and active doing the things you want to be doing, then making sure you have a good sitting posture can help.
Sitting slumped puts 200lbs of pressure on the discs of your lower back – double their normal load. When your spine is in this ‘C’ shaped curve it is 4 times weaker than in its natural ‘S’ shaped position.
The way you sit also changes the tension building up in your neck. Sitting with your head forwards of your shoulder puts tremendous pressure on the joints and muscles in the base of your neck making it tighten up. For every inch your head is forwards from where it should be, it doubles the weight on your lower neck.
Most people’s heads weigh about 10lbs – about the weight of a ten-pin bowling ball. If your head is 2 inches forwards you’ll have 30lbs of pressure on the base of your neck. This increased pressure and tension can start to make you feel sore.
Another effect of sitting slumped is some muscles automatically get switched off. Any of your muscles that are switched off will start to weaken and lose protein. Like a see-saw, all muscles are paired. The partners of a weak muscle automatically start to tighten up. When you sit with your head forwards, the muscles at the front of your neck and below your shoulder blades switch off. This means the muscles that pull your shoulders up and forwards switch on too much.
Similarly when you sit, your gluteal and abdominal muscles get switched off so the muscles in the front of your hip and low back get switched on too much. These patterns of tension and weakness
contribute to aches and pains and wear and tear.
Even if you are not feeling aches and pains, the stresses and strains on your body each day mean you can still be getting wear and tear damage without noticing it.
So we’ve described why you might be experiencing aches, pains and tension or wear and tear. What can you do about it? The problem is we know we should sit up straight but how long does it last? How can we make it easier?
What Can You Do To Improve Your Sitting Posture Easily?
If you want to sit up straight, for most people it is essential to sit on an angled surface of 8-14 degrees. This helps you into your natural ‘S’ shaped curve that you are in when standing up. Alternatively, if you want to sit back – for example, if you are relaxing watching TV or prefer to drive leaning back in the seat - then the optimal is for the front of the seat to be angled up between 8-14 degrees and the back of the seat positioned at 110-120 degrees, with some support for the arch of your back.
What Else Can You Do To Help Prevent Your Aches When Sitting?
As well as altering your posture and getting up regularly to move around and stretch, there is a relief position that can help to release the tight muscles and strengthen the weaker muscles associated with sitting. It can do for a few minutes, several times per hour, especially if you have to spend much of the day seated, for example at a desk or computer.
How Do You Do The Relief Position?
• Sit on a seat wedge or very close (perch) to the edge of your chair, arms hanging down at your side.
• Place your feet directly below your knees and then move them slightly more apart and turn them slightly outwards.
• Roll your pelvis slightly forwards to produce a very small degree of arching of your lower back. Is your sternum (breastbone) slightly forwards and up.
• Turn your arms out wide so the palms facing forwards.
• Separate your fingers until your thumbs face slightly backwards.
• Tuck your chin in gently.
• Maintain this posture while you practice four or five cycles of slow breathing to a pattern such as that outlined in anti-arousal breathing (PTO).
• Repeat this whenever you sense muscle tension during sitting, or if you feel the need for deep breathing.
This relief posture ensures that the chest can be as free and open as possible and reverses many of the stresses caused by long periods of sitting.
By reducing the build-up of tension on your back and neck during the day you will feel comfier and more productive.
If either of these postural positions or exercises are not working for you, or if you want further advice or help to ease your aches and pains and other symptoms please contact Back-in-Action on 01772 749389 for a New Patient Appointment.