Excessive Sitting and Back Pain

June 12th, 2017 Becki Andrus
Pain of lower back, mature businesswoman

If you or a loved one are experiencing server back pain we highly recommend speaking with a back doctor or spine specialist to correct the problem. Sometimes issues can improve with stretching or improving your posture, but there are times when the best solution is to speak to a profession.

Back Pain 101

Back PainIn today’s modern world, the majority of us do a lot more sitting than standing or moving around. On average, the American adult spends about 10 hours per day seated. This can be working a desk job, driving, taking public transportation or unwinding after a day at work. While this may not sound like something that can cause issues, excessive sitting can actually be more harmful than you think.

Unfortunately, even semi-regular exercise sessions are not enough to balance out all of the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle. Today’s post will cover the risks associated with too much sitting, how sitting can be the cause of your back pain and what you can do to minimize the pain and health problems that come with spending too much time in a chair.

How Much Sitting Constitutes a Sedentary Lifestyle? 

First of all, it is important to understand what exactly a sedentary lifestyle is. You may think you are active enough that this term doesn’t apply to you, but that may not be completely accurate.

A sedentary lifestyle is simply one that is mostly inactive. If you do not physically exert yourself for more than a couple of hours every day, you would be considered by most to be an inactive person. This is not to say that you are making unhealthy life choices; even otherwise healthy people can fall victim to inactivity.

If you’re experiencing back pain that you cannot determine the cause of, or if you think you fall into the “sedentary lifestyle” category, this article is definitely for you.

What Are the Risks Associated With Excessive Sitting? 

It sounds silly to say that sitting comfortably in a chair poses a health risk, but this is actually the case. While sitting down is usually associated with being relaxed, it can end up putting a lot more stress on your joints and muscles than you might initially expect.

Prolonged periods of sitting have been associated with fluid retention, general malaise, swollen legs, aching feet and, of course, pain in your back. In addition to these things, the Mayo Clinic has also shown research that links a sedentary lifestyle to more serious health concerns such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, obesity, heart disease, unhealthy cholesterol levels and certain types of cancer.

How Does Too Much Sitting Cause Pain? 

Regularly sitting for long periods of time can contribute to chronic pain in your upper and lower back. There are many reasons for this and almost all of them have to do with your body’s natural posture and how your spine is intended to curve.

A healthy spine should, when standing, have a slight, S-shaped curvature to it. These gentle curves help to support your body and absorb the stress of movement and gravity.

The spine is made up of many small bones called vertebrae, and each of these vertebrae have discs between them. These discs are sturdy like bone on the outside, but soft and gel-like on the inside in order to properly absorb the shock of movement without stressing your vertebrae.

When you sit, even though it may feel like you are reducing stress and pressure on your body, you are actually just causing a different kind of stress. Sitting causes your entire spine to compress, which puts a lot of extra pressure on the vertebral discs, the muscles of your back and the ligaments surrounding your spine and neck. Subjecting your body to this kind of pressure for prolonged stretches of time not only causes temporary discomfort but chronic pain.

What Can I Do at Home to Remedy the Pain? 

Luckily, much of the pain you may be experiencing can be reduced considerably with small lifestyle changes. Even if you spend a lot of time in the car or at a desk, there are simple adjustments and exercises you can incorporate into your routine that will significantly improve the pain you may be feeling in your back.

1. Ergonomics

Ergonomics is an entire field of study devoted to making sure you are able to work your desk job in the healthiest way possible. While the term itself has become a buzzword in recent years, the purpose of ergonomics is to help you work in a safe and truly comfortable way.

The University of California, Los Angeles Spine Center has developed a set of guidelines that you can use to ensure that your desk is set up in a way that minimizes pressure on your spine and stress on your joints. This alone will help alleviate a lot of pain.

2. Look For Ways to Stand

The easiest change for you to make is to simply find ways to add a bit of motion into your day. Stand up while you eat your afternoon snack, or walk around while you’re on a conference call. If you’re waiting on your child at school, get out of the car and do a few light stretches. If you take public transportation, stand instead of sitting. Any way you can add movement into your day will help.

If these adjustments are not enough to fix the problem, you should not hesitate to seek professional help.

When Should I Seek Professional Help? 

If you have made the proper lifestyle adjustments, but you are still not seeing the level of pain relief you are hoping for, it is probably time to schedule an appointment with an orthopedic specialist.

Orthopedic specialists will be able to examine the areas that are giving you problems and recommend a treatment plan that will best help your situation. Often, solutions like targeted massage, chiropractic sessions or physical therapy are offered depending on the severity and duration of your pain.

Final Thoughts 

For many, excessive sitting is simply a fact of life. Even though you may not be able to stand and move as much as you should, every little bit of motion helps. By coupling small, simple lifestyle adjustments with the personalized attention of a specialist, you should be able to alleviate the pain of a sedentary life.

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