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Sitting Too Long: Problems & Solutions

May 14, 2020


Mark Shelley

If you are sitting for a large portion of the day, you could be experiencing some seriously detrimental effects on your overall health. By now, many of us have heard the phrase “Sitting is the new smoking” parroted by online articles and in our social circles, but what does that really mean? Is it just hyperbole? Read on to learn about some self-care solutions for sitting for too long.


Hip Pain

You may have experienced pain in your hips in the past from sitting during a long car ride, watching a movie, or maybe it is a regular occurrence at work. When you sit down, gravity pulls the mass of your upper body down into your hips. This creates compression in your hip muscles squeezing the blood out and preventing fresh, nutrient-rich blood from flowing back in its place. A lack of blood flowing into the muscle allows for metabolic byproducts (like lactic acid) to build up in the muscles and create a sore or burning sensation. In order to prevent this from happening, take a 2+-minute walk around the house or office to pump some fresh blood into your hip muscles and pump painful metabolites out! *If your location permits, you could perform a superman exercise where you lie on your stomach and lift your legs, shoulders, and hands off the ground to mimic superman flying through the air. Not only will this activate your glutes, but it will also activate your hamstrings and your spinal erectors, which are postural muscles. Doing this exercise primes you to have good spinal alignment when you return to sitting.

Hip pain stretch                                  Hip pain stretch 2


Knee Pain

Knee Pain Specialist

The cause of knee pain while sitting can be different than the cause of hip pain. When you sit down, your quad muscles are shortened at the hip and held in this position for extended periods of time. Your body senses this and, over time will reduce the length of your quads. You might have tight quads and not even realize it! If you can poke your thumb into your quads and produce a bit of discomfort or pain, chances are high that you have tight quads.

Excess tension can produce pain above, below, or under the knee cap. Excessive tension produces undue strain on the ligament attaching the kneecap to the lower leg and the tendon attaching the kneecap to the quads. Additionally, imbalances in the length/tension ratios of the individual quadriceps muscles can create a misalignment of the kneecap. This can cause the kneecap to track improperly which in turn can result in a condition known as patellofemoral syndrome. All of these mechanical imbalances can generate inflammation, cause degeneration, and trigger pain receptors. The good news is you probably can loosen up your quads with a simple stretch! Place one foot on the couch with the other foot in front and the try to touch your knee to the floor. As your knee gets closer to the ground, you should feel a big pull through your quads. Slowly press your hip joint forward for some extra stretch!

Knee pain stretch

Another great way to open up your quads is with foam rolling. Foam rolling can be thought of as specific, targeted stretching. Where static stretching lengthens a muscle from its origin to insertion, foam rolling stretches the muscle fibers in contact with the roller. If you have a tight spot in a muscle, you can use foam rolling to take the stretch right to the spot where it’s needed! Start with the foam roller up by your hips and slowly begin rolling down towards your knees. Stop on all the tight and tender spots you find while breathing deeply in order to relax your quads. Perform passes down the middle of your quads, on the outsides and the insides. Spend time slowly rolling over the spots that are most uncomfortable and over time they should become desensitized!

foam roller stretches 2                                       foam roller stretches

Low Back Pain

Low back pain is very common if your job or hobbies require you to sit for long periods throughout the day. Performing the Superman exercise demonstrated earlier in the article could help keep your back pain at bay, but it is only likely to be effective if you have poor sitting posture. There are a few common deviations from a neutral and pain-free position that can be remedied by developing ergonomic awareness and developing corrective habits As the day wears on, gravity pulls on your head and arms that are out in front of your spine. Also, you may have noticed that your hips creep forward and your low back rounds backward. This will create unwanted torque on all the joints in your back. The junction of your neck, upper back and shoulders, and your low back are particularly susceptible. Torque, or rotational force, drives pressure into the front side of the discs and creates increased internal pressure in the disc. Additionally, the further off center you are, the harder your muscles have to work, potentially causing inflammation and pain. So how do you prevent this from happening? A great place to start is by modifying the ergonomics of your work environment. Try the adjustments listed below!

  • Elevate your work surface or monitor so you are looking directly forward instead of downward. This will keep your head up and upper back neutral.
  • Pull your chair closer to the work surface. This will allow you to keep your arms closer to your side and won’t allow you to lean forward in front of your hips.
  • Use a lumbar support. Try using a small throw pillow, rolled-up towel, or buy an adjustable lumbar support. Keeping your low back supported is critical for your health if you sit for a living! Periodically engage your core and postural muscles. Now, this does not mean “pull your belly-button towards your spine”. Instead, drive your sit bones down into the chair and push your head up to the ceiling as if you were a puppet being lifted by a string. This cue will help you activate your postural muscles as well as your abdominals.

lower back pain stretches

For some, these stretches and physical cues will be all that is needed to reduce your daily discomfort while sitting, but for some, they will not solve the root cause of the problem. There could be other underlying conditions producing the pain. If your pain persists despite consistent use of these self-care procedures, you should be evaluated by a health care professional. Finding relief from pain due to prolonged sitting depends on accurately diagnosing what’s causing it. In this article, we identified tight muscles, poor posture and bad ergonomics as triggers. Additionally, there are numerous other potential sources such as; disc degeneration/herniation, arthritis, spinal stenosis, nerve compression/entrapment and diseases affecting other body systems, cancer or infections. Providing that pathology can be ruled out, the greatest likelihood is that the pain is due to mechanical imbalances or compression.

At Olympic spine and sports therapy, we specialize in providing a comprehensive treatment approach to address these mechanical and compression conditions. We have state of the art equipment including: high dose laser, non-surgical decompression, infrared therapy and postural corrective traction. Additionally, we have a highly skilled staff that are trained in functional rehabilitation, and posture correction, utilizing chiropractic biophysics (the most highly researched method of posture rehabilitation). To learn more about our comprehensive treatment approach, we produced these videos: Solutions for chronic spine pain, Relief for chronic joint pain, and Rehabilitation for lasting relief. You can view our complete video library here Our goal is to provide relief with results at last, without the use of drugs or surgery. If there’s anything we can do to be of help, don’t hesitate to contact us. We offer in-person and teleconferences for consultations free of charge. You can reach us at 425-967-6426.