How Sitting is Killing You — and How to Stand Up to Your Chair (Part 3)

This is part 3 of a 4 part series on How Sitting is Killing You – Part 1Part 2

My back hurts. My shoulders hurt. My neck hurts. My knees hurt. My feet hurt. These are the diseases of sitting. We live in a world where we all sit all day and hunch over tiny screens. And then we do it again. And again. For years. I do movement training for my clients based on a tool called the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), developed by a physical therapist named Gray Cook. The FMS is based on the concept of alternating mobility and stability throughout the body. We need stability in some parts of the body in order to have leverage to move other parts of the body; i.e. the core needs to be stable so the leg can push the body forward. That stability and mobility is based on the types and shapes of the joints we are referring to. For example, the knee is shaped to primarily straighten and bend. Some twisting is allowed, but when we have a lot of rotating or side-to-side movement we get an injury (like an ACL tear). So what is supposed to move? The shoulders, upper back (thoracic spine), hips, wrists, and ankles are designed for a large range of motion. What is supposed to be stable? The low back, knees, elbows, neck, and shoulder blades are designed to maintain stability through movement. Our brain is pretty smart, but then again, it isn’t. When something that is supposed to move doesn’t, your brain will do whatever it takes to make that movement happen, even if it has to compensate. The bad news is, when you compensate, things start to hurt. Here’s the story with sitting:

When you sit for long periods of time, you typically feel pretty tight when you get up. Things are cramping, and some things just do not want to move. Do that over long periods of time, and certain things just refuse to move, or don’t know how to anymore. Let’s start with the upper back. Our typical chair posture is hunched way over. Our upper back and chest get very tight, and over time, refuse to move. Check yourself in a mirror. Is your head protruding forward and your shoulders are rolled forward? This is you. If not, try this in a chair. When your upper back (which is supposed to be mobile) is locked into this hunched position, a few things happen. In order to look up, your neck has to hyperextend (too much movement). In order to stand up or lift, your low back has to hyperextend (too much movement). You might be able to move that arm straight up in the air, but is that movement coming from your shoulder blade (are you shrugging with the shoulder in a locked position), or is it actually coming from the shoulder? If your shoulder is locked, then your shoulder blade needs to shrug, and your elbow needs to rotate in order to get into certain positions. Elbow pain. The pain can move upwards too. If your wrists are constantly in the same position (typing, writing), it becomes difficult to rotate and extend (lift up) your wrist. When your wrist is locked into that position, you can also get pain from the elbow, all the way up to the shoulder and back.

Let’s look at the lower body. When your hips are always at 90 degrees, they don’t like to straighten out all the way anymore. Go ahead, try to stand up tall. Is that movement coming from your hips, or do you have a huge arch in your low back? When your hips don’t move, you try to move from your low back. Anyone hear that deadlifts are bad for your back? Deadlifts are great for your back– they stabilize the low back, and you lift from your hips.  If you can’t lift from your hips, that’s when you hurt your back trying to lift something. When the hips and the ankles are locked in place, the knees start to get too much side-to-side movement. Anyone ever get pain on either side of your knees? Check your hips or ankles.

Sitting puts us in terrible positions and locks us there. Then we try to lift things and move around from these compromised positions, it’s no wonder we all get hurt.

How to stand up to sitting: Get to a good position. It’s that simple. It’s that hard. When we spend years and years in a compromised position, it takes some time to get back to a good position. Here’s some tips that will get you feeling better right away. Step 1, get up from your desk…now! Step 2. Find a wall or the floor. Put your hands up like you’re getting arrested, trying to get your hands and elbows to touch the wall/floor. Can’t do that? Turn to face the wall and get as close as you can. From that position, slide your hands all the way up the wall, keeping your hands and elbows flat against the wall. Then try the opposite motion, sliding your hands all the way down so your elbows are right next to your body. If it hurts, don’t do it. If it feels like an amazing stretch, do it all the time. Next, while standing, bend your knee and grab your foot with your hand. That should stretch out the front.  of your thigh. Often, a better position is kneeling on a pad or mat, in a lunge position (one leg up in front, the other knee on the ground), and, while keeping your core nice and strong, push your hips straight forward. That should stretch out the upper thigh. When you’re done all that, try some planks to strengthen the core. Once we get the upper back and hips moving, while stabilizing the core, everything should start to fall back into place. We’ll go over more corrective exercises with pictures in a later post. For now, if you have any questions on those movements, send me a comment, and I’ll be happy to help.

Now that we’ve covered all the diseases, aches, and pains, the fourth post in the series is going to cover tips on getting up and moving around. When to get up. How to stretch. What to do once you’re up. Stay tuned for the next post!

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