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Is too much sitting causing your pain?

I don’t know about you, but something I have noticed lately is that I sit for longer periods of time than ever before.

And while sitting can be super comfortable, prolonged periods of sitting are doing more harm to your body than you might realize. Despite what you might have heard, no, sitting is not the new smoking--it won’t kill you, but it can have unintended negative side effects to your movement patterns and ability to move your body pain free.

Weakened muscles, joint pain, compressed organs, trouble breathing, and fascial adhesions are just some of the ways sitting is compromising your body.

Joint pain - This is probably the most obvious sign you’ve been sitting too much. Sitting for extended periods of time causes your tendons to stiffen and puts extra pressure on the bursa sacs that cushion and protect bone on bone contact. This causes inflammation and then pain. Prolonged sitting can also cause stress to ligaments in areas like your coccyx (tailbone). The excess pressure causes the ligaments to stretch and move the bones apart while simultaneously trying to keep them from separating--like a rubber band trying to stretch without breaking. This results in something called ligament laxity. The ligaments, when they try to come back together, have less ability to support your boney structures--similarly to a car that needs a front end alignment, the steering wheel feels loose and the car pulls more to one side or the other.

Weakened muscles - have you ever heard the term “flat butt”? It’s exactly as it sounds. Your gluteal muscles become weak from the constant compression of sitting in your chair and as a result look flat and flabby. More importantly, they lose their ability to properly do their job when it comes to movement. They get so used to not having to work that the other muscles--usually your lower back and hamstrings, have to pick up the slack and you can end up with muscle strain as a result. However, the glutes aren’t the only muscles that suffer as a result of too much sitting. Your hip flexors (primarily your tensor fascia latae) become chronically shortened from being in a consistently flexed position. This causes them to become overactive from having to fire or “be on” all the time. Then when we go to walk, we’re asking muscles that are already cranky and irritable to do extra work and the end result is pain in the form of trigger points. This pain can range from back pain, hip pain to pain in the quadriceps and even knee pain. Other muscles that become weakened from too much sitting--the adductors (inner thighs), psoas and rectus abdominis (abdominal muscles), gastrocnemius (calves) and soleus, even your pelvic floor muscles.

Compressed organs - Have you ever thought about what too much sitting does to your organs--especially your digestive system? When we stand, our digestive system is much more functional due to the fact that our 25 feet of small intestines have more room. When we sit, our abdomen becomes compressed, our digestion slows and we end up with symptoms such as bloating, heartburn and constipation.

Difficulty breathing - Too much sitting causes a weakening of the diaphragm, the muscle that helps our lungs fill with air. A weak diaphragm can lead to shortness of breath when we exercise or even climb a set of stairs, it causes a reduction in our blood-oxgyen levels which can lead to lethargy and sleep problems. We also tend to slouch when we sit and round our shoulders forward. This hunched forward posture causes our chests to tighten which then inhibits our ability to fully expand our lungs to capacity and sometimes causes chest and rib pain.

Fascial Adhesions - When we don’t move enough, our fascia can lose it’s flexibility. It tightens and becomes plasticised as anyone who has ever had plantar fasciitis can tell you. This is why plantar and achilles tendonitis are the worst when you take your first steps out of bed or after long periods of sitting.

I know this sounds terrible, but I have some good news. There are ways for you to mitigate the effects of sitting and help your body move better.

Setting a timer or an alert on your phone or FitBit - My FitBit vibrates when I have been sitting for more than 60 minutes. You can set it for any interval your want 20 minutes, 30 minutes, but I suggest no more than 60 minutes. It’s a gentle reminder to get up and move. I have also trained myself to get up and get a glass of water from the kitchen when that alert vibrates. Win-win.

Take a daily stretch break or two - build a stretch break into your day, maybe at lunch and again when you’ve finished work for the day. Maybe you’re working on a big project, reward yourself with a stretch break when you’ve completed a bit piece of the project. My favorite stretch when I've been sitting too long? Side bends. Stand up, feet shoulder width apart. Raise your right arm up over your head and slowly lean to the left and reach your right hand over as your stretch. This is a great one for the chest and rib cage as well as mid back tension.

Do chair yoga - There are tons of videos on YouTube. One of my personal favorites is fellow massage therapist and yoga instructor, Annalisa Derryberry who is a colleague of mine from Florida. She has a fantastic YouTube channel of 10 minute yoga routines and they’re great. I particularly like this seated sun salutation routine.

Make a date with your foam roller - We all know what a fan I am of foam rolling. Foam rolling is the next best thing to having a live-in massage therapist. It feels good when you’re done and if you’re short on time, focusing on 1-2 key areas can make a big difference.

Book a massage - Massage can help address joint pain, muscle tension and temporarily increase range of motion which can help you move better. You can use massage to address a slow digestive system, chest tightness and even fascial adhesions around the diaphragm. You can book your appointment online or call the office at (603) 370-9193.

One last piece of advice, for lasting results you need a combination of movement and strength. If muscle weakness or joint pain is your primary concern, I suggest booking a consultation for some corrective exercises. You can book that online as well.

Ok, now that you’re done reading this blog post, get up and move your body!

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