In a society where sitting has become the norm, it’s time we take a STAND! (see what I did there?) But seriously, we as Americans spend way too much time sitting. We sit when we drive to and from work, we sit behind computers at work (or at home), we sit to eat, we sit while we wait, we sit while we watch our kids play sports, and you’re likely sitting while reading this right now haha. The list goes on and on. Not to mention, most of you reading this post probably like to workout. So we go from all that sitting, head straight to the gym (or home gym), and expect to workout and move in a healthy way without pain. I’m sorry to say but our bodies are just not made to be handled this way, which is why I’ve created this post...to outline how sitting is wrecking your body, and what to do about it.
A big thing sitting does is limit your mobility and strength. How? Let’s start from the top down. When we sit, we tend to slouch. This creates rounded shoulders and promotes a forward head position, which in fact is the leading underlying cause of most types of neck pain. Forward head posture leads to stiffness in the uppermost portions of our neck, and weakness of the muscle in the front of our neck. Our bodies will compensate for stiffness with extra mobility elsewhere, often leading to pain.
Additionally, sitting puts the hip flexors (iliopsoas), a muscle that attaches from the lower back (lumbar spine) to your upper thigh (femur), in a shortened position. So after sitting all day, you stand, and your shortened hip flexor ends up pulling your lumbar spine into a more arched position. And one of the most common causes of back pain is due to excessive extension/arching. Similarly, a shortened hip flexor can pull your thigh (femur) forward, which causes the back of your actual hip joint/capsule to become tight causing jamming of the structures in the front of your hip. This is what often leads to that “pinchy” feeling when you squat deep.
Along those same lines, sitting puts your glutes in a lengthened or slightly stretched position. Muscles like to function at a specific length, so if they’re longer than they should be, they can’t contract as well as they should. And the glutes, being one of the biggest and most powerful muscles of the human body, need to be strong! When your glutes don’t fire adequately, you compensate, which leads to poor movement patterns and potential injuries. You end up using other muscles such as your quads, low back, and hamstrings. This often leads to low back pain, hip pain, and even knee pain.
Lastly, typically when you sit, your feet aren’t directly underneath you, they’re in front. Why is this important? Well one of the most common causes of ankle injuries and pain is due to decreased ankle mobility - specifically in the toes to nose direction (dorsiflexion). This is needed to climb and descend stairs, squat deep, lunge comfortably, run properly, etc. With insufficient ankle mobility, we often see tendinitis or overuse type injuries due to the muscles around that joint being overworked while trying to move a stiff ankle. When we sit, we end up sitting with our feet out away from our body or stretching our legs out in front of us which only makes that “toes to nose” direction that much further away.
Besides these few examples of how sitting can affect your mobility and strength, there are alot of other health benefits that you get from standing. Standing has been shown to increase productivity, increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain helping you concentrate longer, and has a positive influence on mood, energy, and overall well being. It has also been proven to reduce blood sugar levels and decrease your risk of developing heart disease. Reducing sedentary time can improve physical, metabolic and even mental health.
With all of the issues that sitting causes, there’s a solution, the good old standing desk. But wait! There are a few things you need to know before buying an using a standing desk.
How to Pick and Choose
There are many different types of standing desks out there. These range from inexpensive stacking of a couple of books underneath your monitor, to simple adapters that you place on top of your own desk, to fixed standing desks, hand-cranked, and powered automatic self rising desks. How do you choose? The bottom line is that you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to achieve the benefits of standing. As long as you’re able to adjust the height to meet your specific ergonomic needs...mission accomplished.
How To Set Yourself Up for Success
Adjustable standing desks are preferred because of just that...they’re adjustable! You can adjust the height to fit your ergonomic needs. It’s important that the top of your computer screen is at eye level. This will prevent you from having to strain your neck or from falling into the forward head posture that often leads to pain. Your keyboard should be positioned low enough to have a comfortable 90 degree bend in your elbow (making laptops not ideal). Your forearms should be able to rest on a stable surface. If your arms aren’t supported, this can lead to neck and shoulder pain from increased tension or prolonged stretching of those muscles surrounding those joints.
Aiming for Symmetry
Most of us that go and try to stand for long periods of time, end up standing in what’s called “swayback”. This means you let your hips drift forward causing your body to “hang out” on the ligaments in the front of your hips (not good), all while your muscles are not well engaged. This is very efficient from an energy standpoint and is what allows us to stand for a long time, but causes strain and creates issues throughout the body. One big issue is that it places enormous strain on your lower back because of the extension moment it creates. Similarly, it isn’t healthy to stand asymmetrically on just one side all day. If your weight is shifted to one side too much or you have only one leg propped up all the time, this can lead to a lot of other imbalances and issues. If you do this, keep things balanced from side to side, spend time on both legs. The best way to stand is to “unlock” your knees (a.k.a. keep a tiny bend in your knees) and stay symmetrical. This engages your muscles and helps protect your joints.
A Different Type of Interval Training
As you’ll notice, this new active way of standing will get tiring! That’s why we recommend easing your way into this whole standing thing. The benefits are GREAT, but you won’t get those same benefits if you’re doing it wrong. So if you suddenly go from sitting all day to standing all day, you run the risk of developing back, leg, or foot pain; it’s better to ease into it by breaking it up into intervals such as 30 min sitting / 20 min standing / 10 min walking (or whatever you find works best for you!).
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