Prolonged Sitting and your Spine?
The latest research in healthcare has addressed the repercussions that come with prolonged sitting for lengthy periods of time.
- Low energy levels
- Increased blood pressure
- Decreased skin integrity
- Digestive problems are only some of the few.
The Mayo Clinic (2018) referenced a research group that analysed 13 studies, concluding that individuals who sit for longer than 8 hours a day with no physical exercise have similar risks of dying like those who smoke or who are obese.
In this article, our main focus will be on prolonged sitting and its impact on the body’s spine and posture. For the sake of confusion, we will discuss what happens to the spine when a person sits too much in an upright, standard chair:
The spine is made of up of small bones called vertebrae. Together, vertebrae house the spinal cord which is the source of nerves that innervate the entire body. Prolonged sitting can compress the spine and shift the vertebrae. Spinal subluxation refers to a misalignment of the vertebrae. Not only can subluxation occur with lengthy sitting, but it can push into tissues and nerves causing pain or damage to the back.
Between each vertebrae are spinal discs, which are cartilaginous joints that act like shock absorbers in the spine. This tissue also allows for some movement in the spine so that the body can better adapt to mobility requirements during the day (i.e. twisting, bending, etc.). Long periods of sitting causes vertebrae to squeeze into the discs, which can cause pain, wear, and tear. Additionally, sitting in a slouching position can pull on and injure discs.
As mentioned earlier, nerves shoot out from the spinal cord in order to service the entire body. When vertebrae shift and discs wear down, this can cause pinching of these nerves resulting in pain, loss of movement to certain aspects of the body, and loss of sensation. Nerve impingements can be temporarily or permanent if not remedied in a timely manner by positional correction or by surgery.
When the vertebrae shift, this automatically changes the body’s overall posture. Lifelong habits of sitting too long and in uncomfortable positions can lead to kyphosis (hunched at the shoulders), lordosis (increased curvature in the lower back), scoliosis (an increased S-curve in the spine), and other chronic postural conditions. Abnormal posture makes it extremely difficult for individuals to stand or walk efficiently and can increase risk for falls.
Unnatural shifts in the spinal joints, nerve impingements, and disc pressure can lead to unnecessary back and neck pain. If proactive steps aren’t taken to change a person’s position or lifestyle, then back pain can become a lifelong problem and can significantly change a person’s ability to participate in daily tasks.
Recommendations for prolonged sitting:
So, what about individuals who can’t easily stand up on their own. There’s good news for individuals who sit too often, especially those who feel that they have little choice due to acute/chronic medical conditions and general ageing that drastically reduce their mobility. The Spine Health Institute (2018) lists several positioning recommendations to better position the spine.
Such recommendations include:
- Sitting in a reclined position of at least 135 degrees
- Sitting in a natural and non-rigid position, and placing the elbows in a 90 degree angle with the support of arm-rests.
- Implementing these tips during sitting places less strain on the back. Ambassador recliner chairs offer these positional options and can be adjusted and custom-made to a user’s liking to provide optimal comfort.
Furthermore, Ambassador recliner chairs offer more than just sitting angles that promote spine health. These chairs are equipped with electric lifts that assist the user by slowly raising them into a standing position independently. This feature allows for transfers to be made easier for users and caregivers as well as offers the user a mobility option in order to break up their sitting time.
Spinal problems from prolonged sitting do not have to be a permanent burden. If you take the steps to make corrections now, you can spare your back and body the discomfort. Consider movement and positional changes for your daily routine as well as researching or investing in an appropriate chair.
Laskowski, E.R. (2018). What are the risks of sitting too much? Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005. Viewed on Nov. 13, 2018.