Back pain, leg pain, shoulder pain, headaches. We tend to attribute inconvenient aches to getting older, but that may not be the case. In fact, it may have to do with something that the average American spends approximately half of each day doing: sitting.
In today’s work world, many of us spend our days sitting on our butts, hunched over computers, iPads, and phones. This puts our bodies in unnatural postural positions that over time can lead to serious health issues, including bulging or herniated discs.
“There is actually a name for neck problems arising from poor posture because of technology: ‘tech neck,” says Dr. Tripp Puhl a San Antonio, Texas, chiropractor and certified chiropractic sports practitioner. “Early on in my career, it was more common for patients to present with a pain that arose from a traumatic event,” he says. “Now, more frequently I see patients presenting with pain that is more degenerative in nature. Many of those conditions can be directly attributed to sitting for extended periods of time causing postural distortions.”
According to Dr. Puhl, studies show that sitting adds about seven times more pressure to the lumbar spine compared to standing. This can lead to excessive wear and tear on the discs. “Some have said that sitting is the new smoking, and I believe that wholeheartedly,” he says. “The stress to our bodies when sitting for long periods of time with poor posture is devastating.” (Sitting all day every day has also been shown to have negative impacts on mental health.)
So what can you do? To start with: Get up! Even if you don’t go anywhere, Puhl recommends standing and stretching at least every 30 minutes.
Here are additional recommendations.
Know the Right Angle
“When you sit, think of right angles,” advises Dr. Puhl. The correct way to sit is with your knees at 90 degrees and your hips and low back at 90 degrees. Keep your shoulders back and your head over your shoulders. Avoid leaning forward or rounding your back and shoulders into a “C” position.
Give Up Your Seat
Consider trading your desk chair for an exercise ball. “These not only help with posture while sitting, they help engage your core musculature,” says Dr. Puhl, who uses a standing desk, which is another great option.
Work It Out
“Exercise is extremely important to maintain correct posture,” Dr. Puhl says. “The more you keep the muscles toned, the less stress will occur to the joints.” Puhl recommends yoga and Pilates to his patients. “Variations of planks and bridges are very effective in maintaining postural muscle tone.”