Why would someone complain about having a desk job? It requires little physical effort, and you get to sit all day. This obviously keeps the pressure off your feet and is great for your back, right?
Wrong. Prolonged sitting is one of the worst things you can do for your spine and your health in general. In fact, the British Journal of Sports Medicine published a study indicating that prolonged sitting leads to heart disease, diabetes and premature death! All that from pushing pencils!
So, why is sitting all day so bad for you? First of all, the body was not designed for it. When you use the blunt end of a fork as a screwdriver, you don't get great results, do you? You usually end up wrecking your fork. Human beings are used to spend the day doing all sorts of things; hunting, gathering, building shelter, farming, etc. This variety of activities works the various muscles throughout the day, keeping us strong, limber, and balanced. Movement of the joints also allows nutrients to be brought in to the joints and waste products to be forced out. Now, because of a phenomenon called specialization, most people do the same thing; all day, every day. And since our workforce is becoming more and more technology-based, work mostly revolves around a computer. While some think this is progress, your body sees this as a crisis and treats it as such.
Sitting in a fixed position for hours on end keeps the muscles that support our trunk, neck, and shoulders in a fixed position, which promotes fatigue. The blood vessels are squeezed, which reduces blood flow to the muscles when they need it the most. These muscles are more prone to strain and cramping. This often leads to "weekend warrior" injuries because people who are sedentary all week try to use their muscles to do things that they are not accustomed to doing.
Since most of our duties are performed in front of us (on the computer, writing, talking on the phone), the flexors become tight while the extensors become weak, leading to muscle imbalance. This decreases range of motion and creates poor posture. All of this leads to pain and dysfunction down the road if left untreated, which is usually when patients come to see me or another Doctor of Chiropractic that specializes in restoring proper function of the spine. The longer the problem has been there, the harder it is to treat and the longer it takes to "re-train" the muscles to work properly.
But before you turn in your two weeks' notice and buy a beet farm on Ebay, be advised that there are steps that can be taken to prevent this problem.
1. Get regular exercise, especially on work days. Squeeze in a workout or a good mall walk over lunch or get to work 20 minutes early and do a few laps around the building or climb some stairs. Get a "workout buddy." This makes exercise more fun and makes you both accountable.
2. Maintain a healthy weight. This cannot be stressed enough. If placing too much stress on the joints because of your job wasn't enough, excess weight just magnifies the problem. Improve your diet, get more exercise, and you will live a longer, healthier, happier life. Guaranteed.
3. Stretch, stretch, stretch! There are many stretching programs designed to help reverse the damage done from prolonged sitting. Ask your doctor of chiropractic to help put together a stretching program to meet your needs. This should be done at least twice per day to get the most benefit.
4. Eat a nutrient dense diet. Your muscles, joints, and soft tissues require the proper nutrition in order to function properly. You are what you eat, after all.
5. Stay hydrated! Most adults need 6-8 cups of water per day in order to function properly. If you drink a lot of caffeine, you need to drink more (caffeine is a diuretic, causing you to lose more water through your urine).
Be a river, not a sewer, people.
6. Maintain good body mechanics. Sit with your shoulders back and head straight. Anterior head carriage (think Shaggy from Scooby Doo) leads to the loss of the normal forward curve of the neck, which leads to muscle tightness, pain, and arthritis. Have your workstation inspected by an expert in ergonomics.
7. Keep your back and "core" muscles in shape. Yoga, Pilates, or other "core" exercises can help prevent back problems, if done properly. If these exercises hurt, chances are it's too late for prevention and you need to work with a Doctor of Chiropractic first to alleviate spinal dysfunction BEFORE you strengthen (this is similar to having a broken arm re-aligned before you do rehab).
8. Laugh and smile. Stress in the workplace causes muscle tension and can aggravate pre-existing spinal problems. However, spending your time noodling around on YouTube in search of funny videos may cause you MORE stress when your boss finds out, so try and find healthy (and productive) ways to manage your stress throughout the day. (Hint: taking your frustrations out on a heavy bag at the nearest gym during lunch would be a GREAT choice since you'll be killing two birds with one stone!)
I am a doctor of chiropractic in Muskegon, Michigan. I am passionate about chiropractic, exercise, and nutrition. I am an avid fan of sports, the outdoors, and great food. I am a very happily married father of two amazing young boys.
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