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Jun 28

The Secret of Healthy Sitting Posture

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As a follow-up to the June Tip of the Month – the impact of incorrect sitting – Surgeon Dr. Gerd Schnack from the Sport and Prevention Center in Zug, Switzerland informs us about impingement on the neck, spine, hips, skeleton, joints, and related muscle groups.

Humans are made for walking and running, not sitting, according to his argument! While sitting per se is not the issue, doing so on the same chair and maintaining the same rigid position becomes problematic for joints – a cardinal mistake, according to Dr. Schnack! Yes, really! And, we tend to ignore the fact that the usual 10-12 hours per day spent sitting while eating, traveling in the car, sitting in the subway or bus, hunching over our laptop, and our endless texting habits become potential health risks.

The big problem with our sitting position is that supporting muscular structures of the neck and lower spine (lumbar column) have to endure constant strain and stress while the antagonist muscles of the lower back and hips remain unchallenged for a lengthy period of time. We not only damage the back due to our incorrect sitting posture but also lock the shoulders and hips into a rigid and stiff bent-over position. These muscles are then rarely stretched during sitting because the body adopts the bent or hunched position; and “we are actually convinced that our body is not going to ‘strike back with all that bad sitting’ when we deprive upper extremities and hip joints of the freedom of movement…(Dr. Schnack).”

He lists several reasons that prolonged sitting can damage our health:

  • Breastbones and ribcage become even more bent because the counter-movement/counter-swing is lacking. Consequently, the hip joints used in standing and walking can no longer open sufficiently, which can result in back pain.
  • It is a chronic (sustained) lack of movement, which is not only detrimental for the back but also the heart and circulation, thereby potentially shortening our lifespan.
  • It doubles the risk of heart and cardiovascular disease as well as diabetes.
  • It increases the risk of osteoarthritis and contributes to intervertebral disc damage.
  • It becomes a factor in weight gain because unused muscles degenerate, i.e., change into body fat but burn up less fat.
  • It contributes to body imbalance because especially the hip muscles (‘the filet mignon’ among muscles, as he calls it) are neglected. He considers these muscles as one of the most important for health.

Here, consider all the injuries especially athletes suffer (Schloder). Why? What exactly is so special about these muscles? For example, they control the pendulum swing of the lumbar spine and thereby regulate critical pressure exerted on the spinal disks. In addition, they are also important for our breathing and running function.

  • It has tremendous impact on the physiological function because the hip joints are bent at 90-degrees, and ‘signal muscle death of the iliopsoas’, according to Dr. Schnack; they shrink in the sustained flexed position although it is supposed to be responsible that we can bend and straighten the body. In order to do this, the muscle depends on the function of elastic fibers, which degenerate when not used or trained. Therefore, the hip muscles are inhibited.
  • It impedes the development of the fascia and iliopsoas, which is indispensable for our upright standing. It also becomes problematic for the small back because stressed hip muscles increase intradiscal pressure due to the exaggerated forward curvature of the lumbar spine, leading to the dreaded hyperlordosis (hollow rounded back, sway back – excessive inward curvature of the lumbar [lower] spine).

It is impossible to ban chairs and sitting from our lifestyle …but we can take measures to counteract our sitting habit in order to diminish body tension and improve the hip flexor. Here are his suggestions:

  • Get up every 30 minutes and incorporate several stretching exercises
  • Get up every 30 minutes and move about for 1-2 minutes
  • Get up every 30 minutes and lie down to stretch out – elevate the legs
  • Get up every 30 minutes – lie on floor – tuck up legs – wrap arms and hand around calves roll back on floor
  • Perform the ‘Stork-leg Ritual.’ Stretching is done in the sitting position because we can not effectively reach the facia-iliopsoas in the standing position with this exercise:

Assume sitting upright position on front edge of chair – hands grasping side edges of chair – place the L leg beneath the chair to the back – top of L foot on floor – L thigh and hip stretched to maximal – lift the R leg off the floor – shift the upper body to the back without arching the back – thigh and frontal abdominal wall are linear aligned – slightly bounce the upper body forward and backward in a dynamic position – repeat – opposite side/hip/leg/foot

Benefits of Correct Sitting Posture:

  • Foremost, back pain can be controlled better because the shift/re-positioning and equal distribution on the lumbar spine reduces intradiscal pressure, thereby reducing the risk of a herniated disc injury.
  • Our body appearance changes because we can move more easily. We walk more upright and more gracefully with good hip action instead of stomping along hunched over.

Note:

Dr. Gerd Schnack is a surgeon for Sport and Prevention at the Allensbacher Prevention Center, Zug, Switzerland.

Reference:

Schnack, G. (2018). Meine Gesundheit. Medizin Thema der Woche. Das Geheimnis des gesunden Sitzens. Gesundes Sitzen auf einem Stuhl – alles was Sie dabei beachten sollen [My health. Medical theme of the week. The secret of healthy sitting. Healthy sitting habits on a chair – everything you need to pay attention to], Das Neue Blatt #14. March 28, pp. 24-25, and www.DasNeue Blatt.de

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