Want to truly “take a load off”? Despite what the phrase suggests, Bend physical therapist Tom Pietrowski says the worst thing you can do — at least when it comes to the health of your back — is take a seat.
“Sitting, especially with poor posture, not only puts a lot of compression on the spine but over time can lead to disc problems and degeneration,” said Pietrowski, owner of Compass Physical Therapy LLC in Bend.
Pietrowski cited research that has found bent posture positions like sitting can increase disc pressure in your spine by 40 to 100 percent when compared to standing. This can increase dramatically when slouching, leaning forward, or picking up weight from a sitting position. When such compression is repetitive and prolonged, it can lead to degenerative numbness, pain and weakness in the spine, which can set you up for injury.
This can be bad news for the typical American who, according to a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, spends 7.7 hours a day in a sitting position. Such prolonged spine compression may partially explain why eight of 10 people in the U.S. will experience back pain at some point in their lives, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“Many people have jobs that involve a lot of sitting that can’t always be avoided,” Pietrowski said. But he was quick to point out that there are some easy ways to change our work habits that can combat the effects constant sitting has on our backs. “Changing workstations to standing desks, making sure your current work station is properly fit to you, and how we take breaks can all help decrease the compressive forces on our backs.”
Such changes according to Pietrowski include the following:
Posture with a Purpose: Sit so your hips are slightly higher than your knees and with your feet planted on the floor – a position which helps you activate your core and maintain the proper level of curvature in your lumbar spine, or lower back, helping to reduce compression. Adding lumbar support (e.g., a small pillow behind your lower back) can also help.
Take a Stand: If you do not have a standing work station, take full advantage of any opportunity you have to stand while at work, such as when you’re on the phone or eating your lunch. And instead of sending emails and/or instant messages to coworkers, take a quick walk over to their desks for a brief chat. Pietrowski suggests taking a break from sitting — even to simply stand for a few seconds of stretching or back bends — every 15 to 30 minutes.
Break for Fitness: Don’t just sit at your desk or in the lounge sipping coffee during your breaks. Take a quick walk around the building or around the block. Feet are made for walking, so don’t underestimate the positive effects a simple walking program can have on your back.
See a Specialist: If prolonged sitting is already causing weakness, numbness and pain in your back, a physical therapist can provide effective treatment while creating a customized plan that can help prevent such issues in the future. The Therapists at Compass Physical Therapy are trained to help properly set up your workstation and provide on-site assessments.