Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sitting ducks

Lower back, hips take it on the chin when you sit around all day

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222A. Waking up the morning of Thanksgiving Monday, I am thankful for the usual: good friends and loving family -- that old chestnut. But as I sit in a van for an eight-hour drive home, I am finding it hard to be thankful for the third of the "big three" blessings: health. Since Friday, my routine has been wake, eat, sit, eat, sleep, repeat, and both body and mind are repaying my decision of taking a sports road trip with a bigger belly, sore back and a boatload of guilt. In the last four days, my exercise had consisted of walking up stairs to nosebleed seats at a Vikings football game (carrying beer, nachos, and hotdogs as added resistance!), a two-minute chicken fight in the hotel pool, and three hours of mall-walking (FYI -- the chairs in the Nordstrom shoe section are super-comfy). Meals have not ended in satisfaction but rather self-hatred, and I have sat on my (ever-growing) butt for two college hockey games, an NFL game and about 16 hours of travel.

Needless to say, this is not my normal routine. What is frightening is this amount of sitting and general inactivity is normal for the reader in question and the majority of the public. Excluding the similarities between my horrendous weekend diet and many people's everyday food intake, most people are required to sit all day at their jobs and are granted very little time to stand, stretch and move around; then they go home and sit on the couch or in front of the computer again. Most people think of sitting as a very neutral and passive position, which couldn't be further from the truth. The position in which we spend many waking hours is not the position we were designed to maintain for countless hours. Even if you sit with great posture in an ergonomic chair, you are still sitting.

Sitting is the cause of many common muscle imbalances. If we revisit our (movement) planes information from my Oct. 5 article (http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/life/health/all-the-right-moves-226561931.html), we know these imbalances can occur in front/back, left/right and top/bottom relationships. To complicate matters more, they can also affect both strength and flexibility or any combination of the two. So what is the main chronic effect of spending too much time in that office chair or on the couch?

Your muscles get shorter:

While in a seated position, there are several muscles that are in an extremely contracted position; namely your chest (pectoral) muscles and your deep hip flexors. These muscles are part of your anterior chain muscles (anterior meaning "front"). The long-term effects of these contractures are changes in joint positions that result in postural issues and, eventually, pain. Shortened chest muscles will cause shoulders that slump forward, contributing to any number of chronic injuries, while hip flexor contractures lead to changes in pelvic angle and eventually many types of knee, hip, and lower-back pain. This hip flexor contracture is the most notable of these issues. While sitting with improved posture can help alleviate some shoulder problems, no matter what you do while seated; your hips are flexed and your hip flexors are shortened.

Now why does this make my job frustrating? Because when a patient is expecting a fancy injury diagnosis I have to tell them they sit too much and need to do a couple of simple -- possibly boring -- stretches to counteract these effects.

It's surprising to think there is so much to write about sitting, and I would like to think of the preceding paragraphs as nothing but an amuse-bouche. I'll cover, along with a video, the etiology of other negative effects of sitting, as well as corrective exercises to offset this position, in next week's article.

We want your fitness questions! Email us at tim@eastmantherapy.ca and you could be featured in the next Q&A article.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 19, 2013 D16

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