Sitting’s been getting so much bad press lately that many people are considering working at standing desks or replacing their chairs with giant balance balls (if not actually getting around to it).
But the truth is, the way you sit probably is causing lasting damage to your body.
And the same may apply to the position you slept in last night. And the way you got up. Even the clothes we wear and the way we walk has an effect on how our bodies work.
It’s a big problem and younger and younger people are being affected by it. The Office Of National Statistics (ONS) estimates that a million working days were lost from back or neck pain last year, and thanks to our increasingly sedentary, screen-based lives, an ache epidemic is around the corner and we’re all storing up serious problems for the future.
But enough doom and gloom - there are things we can do to prevent back and neck pain and protect ourselves from misery in the future.
Chiropractor Kevin Pistak tells us that the most common posture-related problem he sees in his clinic is ‘anterior head carriage’, which is when the head is too far forward, altering the natural line of the neck and shoulders.
He explains: “If the head is forward of this neutral position the muscles on the back of the neck extending down into the upper back and shoulders need to contract to support the head.”
And this is what causes sore neck and tight shoulders, as they work harder to keep the head up.
Unsurprisingly this is caused by sitting working on a computer.
“Sitting needs to be turned into an activity not a passive state of being,” says Pistak. “The primary sitting fault occurs at the base of the spine and works its way up.
“If the pelvis is allowed to roll back the lumbar curve is reduced or flattened, which increases the load on the lumbar intervertebral discs and allows the shoulders to drop and head to shift forward.”
“The solution is to ensure you sit with your pelvis tilted forward maintaining good separation between the diaphragm and the pelvis, imagine a string attached to the top of your head pulling you up to the heavens: In short sit up!”
He adds that sitting up requires muscles, and sitting well will help strengthen them.
As well as being conscious of how you sit, you also need to take a break from sitting altogether.
“Stand up and stretch your hamstring and hip flexor muscles and go for a short walk. Have a regular water break - it need only last one to two minutes but it will allow you to stretch and rehydrate.
“When you sit back down it will give the opportunity to re-examine your sitting posture and have a fresh start. The key is to be aware of your body and how you use it.”
Here at Yahoo HQ we’ve started sitting with a half-inflated small Pilates ball at the small of our back to remind us to sit up. It seems to be doing a good job.
Pistak recommends using the Lumba Curve if you do get lower back pain. You place it under your spine and lie on your back to help relieve pressure on it. It feels a little unnatural at first but works wonders for soothing and preventing lower back pain.
LumoBody Physiotherapist, Cuong Lu advises: “Distribute body weight evenly to the front, back, and sides of the feet while standing, making sure your ankles, hips and shoulders line up in a straight line, and open up your shoulders and lengthen your neck.
“You can do this by imagining a piece of string is attached to the top of your head that pulls you up to stand straighter. This will result in you looking both taller and broader, while giving off an air of confidence.”
LumoBody has created a gadget called LumoBack, a Posture and Activity Sensor, with an accompanying app that monitors your posture during the day and offers encouragement and advice. You can wear it under your clothes ad the sensor will gently vibrate when it detects slouching – nifty.
You can also measure your posture using free app, PostureZone, which draws measure the angles and straight lines between your hips, head, shoulders and feet. This can help you identify any problem areas.
For exercise options and to track your progress, another free option is the SimplyHealth Back Care app that allows you to input your pain levels and where they occur and matches exercises that will help strengthen and relieve the areas.
We spent (hopefully) seven to eight hours asleep so the position that you sleep in has a huge impact on your body. It’s also when your body rejuvenates and replenishes, so getting it right is vital.
Neil Robinson, Marketing Director of Sealy UK, reminds us that: “You should change your mattress every seven years and if you’re in pain at night, it might be that you need to buy a new one. If you are buying a new mattress, it’s vital to try it before making the purchase – you wouldn’t buy a pair of shoes without trying them on and mattresses are no different, especially as we all spend such a large amount of our lives in bed.
“It’s best to lie on your side and your spine should be parallel to the mattress. Your spine should not sag (bed too soft) or bow (bed too hard). The longer you can spend lying on a mattress before you buy it, the more accurate this feeling will be.”
And it’s also about what you do after you’ve been asleep.
Chiropractor, Rishi Loatey, from the British Chiropractic Association tells us: “Despite complaining of back and neck pain occurring after sleep, most people don’t think that getting in and out of bed is important to their back health.
“In fact, disc injuries are more likely to occur with bending movements first thing in the morning. As you sleep, the discs in your back hydrate and increase in size. This makes the disc fibres more susceptible to injury.
“Try and avoid bending movements for the first hour after waking. Instead move gently, walk about, put the kettle on or brush your teeth and make small movements to give your body time to even out before you stretch.
Whether you have pain or stiffness at the moment or not, the so-called ‘iPosture’ generation need to start fighting the future. Now sit up straight!
Top tips for a healthy posture:
1. Exercise regularly
2. Stay hydrated
3. Wear a variety of clothing styles, especially if you wear tight or restrictive items
4. Take regular screen breaks
5. Tune into your body and make an effort to work on your posture