In Part 1 we looked at how movement is fundamental for the human body, and explored some easy ways to increase the amount of movement you are getting throughout the day. In Part 2 I would like to take a good look at chairs and the effects the “ergonomic sitting position” has on the body, and suggest some easy ways to reduce these negative effects.
2. Our chairs are “casting” us
Imagine that you broke your arm and your elbow was placed in a cast at a 90 degree angle for an extended period of time. Maybe some of you have experienced what happens when the cast comes off. It can be very challenging and time consuming to return full range of motion and strength to your arm. This is because your body has adapted to being in a cast.
One of the smartest things our body does is it adapts to the loads we place on it. If we weight train, the body lies down more muscle fibres and increases neural connections, which increases the strength of our muscles. If we hold our body in a single position for an extended period of time, our over-helpful body tries to make it easier for us to do so by adapting to that position and shortening the tissues where appropriate.
Now think of the position we spend most of our day in, almost like it is a type of cast:
And we wonder why most of us have short hip flexors and hamstrings??
Did you know that people spend an average of 12 hours a day in this same position?
When the “muscles of sitting” are chronically shortened it changes the way our entire body functions…our natural alignment is changed, our muscle recruitment is altered and the body as a whole starts to experience more wear and tear. So when people see me for their back or neck pain and blame it on their chair, I try and shift the blame to the body’s compensation to sitting. Or when a fit and healthy person bends down to tie their shoe and they prolapse a disc, it did not “happen out of the blue”, it often happens because of these chronic adaptations to our modern world. These are the issues that my clients experience on a daily basis, and together we work with corrective exercise to restore the body to some level of normality. But many of these problems are also preventable and will be easier to treat if the time spent in a single position is reduced.
For an example, what do you think would be more effective to lengthen shortened hip flexor muscles: twenty minutes of hip flexor stretching after spending 12 hours in a chair? Or spending 3 of those 12 hours at a standing desk? The awesome part about making these kind of lifestyle changes is that you just might see a dramatic difference in your body and your health without adding anything else to your daily to-do list...it's all about changing what you do over the course of the day that got you there in the first place.
“But what if I just spent $1500 on my new ergonomic chair??”
Let’s look at the field of ergonomics. The field of ergonomics looks at putting the body in the best position possible to survive the 8-hour workday…and come back to do it again for the next 4 days in a row. Which might be necessary for you, and that's fine. As long as you realize that ergonomics IS NOT looking at the best position for the human body, as there is no single position the body is meant to be in for an extended period of time. It is looking at the way to get the most “economy” out of the body for the job that is required of most people.
Will an ergonomically assessed/expensive chair feel comfortable and lead to less pain? Possibly. Is it a long-term solution to improving the overall function of our bodies? No.
So let’s think outside of the box…or the chair. If our bodies are being harmed from adapting to our “normal” sitting position, what if we just start reducing our time in the chair? Here’s a few tips to get you started:
- Explore your workplace options:
The following website reviews several of the latest standing desk types, check it out:
- Working from home:
Whether you work from home or need to spend some extra time on the computer in the evenings, remember that you don't need to spend all of your time in a chair. Create a workspace that is conducive to getting out of the chair, and gives you a variety of different positions to work from. Lie or sit on the floor, stand, and move between these positions fairly often. All of my computer work is done from home, so I'm loving experimenting with this. Here are two of my favorites:
1. Find a spot on the floor and put computer on chair, low table, couch, etc. Sit raised off floor if possible (use bolsters, phone book, rolled blankets, etc). to more easily achieve a neutral pelvis and change leg positions often (legs straight, v-sit, cross leg, etc.). Not necessarily "ergonomically correct" so move/change when your body tells you to.
2. Lying on stomach, roll up blanket/towel and place under ASIS (hip bones) and make sure you can feel your pubic bone on the floor: this will alleviate excess lumbar extension/tension in your low back. Think "long" back of neck and adjust screen accordingly, change when needed. Nice for passive hip extension and some opening of the upper back.
- Sit on the floor:
We are moving house later in the year and I am planning on creating a comfortable, relaxing, furniture free lounge room (shhh my husband doesn’t know yet). I will be sure to post some pictures to inspire you!
- Think outside of the box/chair:
See if you can play with some ideas from here for a bit of body variety!
- If you NEED to sit in a chair
And then review Part 1 to get as much movement into your day as possible. And make sure you are doing some corrective exercise to "undo" some of the chair effects.
Please remember that the process of "uncasting" your body needs to be done gradually, gently, and mindfully. Listen to your body, if something doesn't sit well (hehe) with you then don't force it. Enjoy the process and have fun with the exploration.
I would love to hear what you are doing to remove your chair-casts, please let me know what getting out of your chair has done for your body!
- Katy Bowman (my hero) introducing the idea of casts…chairs aren’t the only ones unfortunately: http://www.katysays.com/a-list-of-body-casts/
- Katy talking muscle adaptation: http://www.katysays.com/muscle-an-oversimplified-model/
- Hewes full article “World Distribution of Postural Habits”, just because I think it’s awesome
- Mary Bond on how to "let your chair support you" in this amazing podcast: http://www.liberatedbody.com/mary-bond-posture-exploration-lbp-028/