Monday, March 17, 2014

Sitting is the Problem!

First blog in almost a year!  I know what you've been thinking... "why did it take so long?"  "wow I've missed these posts" "I will literally cry if they don't post another article soon!" "How can I go on living without a new post??"  I know, I know, and I'm sorry for the delay :) Apparently a ton of people in Boston have needed a chiropractor!  So we've been kinda busy... But we're back!

Currently I'm about 10,000 feet above sea level (that's a guess, I have no clue how high we are, but it sounded like a good number), stuck in a metal tube that's traveling hundreds of miles per hour. For those of you have already figured out that I'm in a plane... congratulations :) Currently I'm somewhere over Chicago on my way to San Francisco (and then vegas) and one thing is becoming very obvious to me... this is a long flight and I'm bored! Wait no that can't be it... that would be an even more boring blog post than normal. Ah yes, I remember now... my back hurts! It's been about 2 hours and I haven't gotten up once. My gluts are starting to tighten up and my lower back is starting to feel stiff, it's not all that painful yet but it's starting to ache. Suddenly I am understanding why the majority of people I see come from the John Hancock tower or the Prudential center. And the reason is that most people who work in Boston sit for a living... and sitting is the #1 cause of back pain.

I wish it wasn't, I really do, I wish sitting had nothing to do with back pain. My job would sound so much cooler if the majority of people I saw were injured BASE jumping or cage fighting... or even falling down the stairs after a drunken debacle. But alas, those hardly ever happen. The majority of people walk into the office and tell us that they really didn't do anything... but their back always hurts. I guess the question is why? So to understand why sitting is so bad for the human body we have to look at the spine itself.

When we're born the spine is a big C shape, cause we've spent 9 months curled up inside the womb. As we start to crawl we actually develop different curves in our spines, and as we begin to walk upright our spinal development is finished with a nice curvy spine. It's basically an S shaped curve(google it for more details). It's similar to a spring... and that's basically what our spines do, they compress, expand, flex and extend like a slinky (for those of you old enough to remember a slinky). Every time we walk or jump our spines compress then expand again, kind of like a slinky would. That's normal spinal motion, and it's actually how our spines stay nice and mobile throughout life. The movements of the spine allow for blood flow and nutrients to travel in and out of our spines which prevent things like disc issues and arthritis from occurring. 

Proper spinal curves also improve the function of the human body. Try to think of the best athletes on the planet. Do you have someone in mind? Now think about their bodies, not in a gross way :) but in a spinal curve way. What you'll notice, if you look closely, is that the best athletes in the world have impeccable posture but also have big butts. That may sound strange but it's quite true. Look again at pictures of sprinters or power lifters or even baseball players, they all have huge glut muscles. And the reason they have huge glut muscles is because they have perfect spinal curves which makes their gluts actually stick out further than the normal person... thus allowing for proper gluteal development and power. Now lets assume that you had perfect spinal curves when you were a kid... which by the way doesn't always happen, some people just don't develop the correct curves and they have a lifetime of back pain... but I digress. So assuming you have great spinal curves and you have a nice lower back arch while standing, lets take a look at what happens when you sit down. 

Immediately upon sitting you lose your lower back arch. You can try this on yourself, sit down and place your hand on the small of your back... is there any space in between your lower back and the seat back? I guarantee there isn't any space and you probably had trouble just fitting your hand behind your back because the small of your back was jammed into the seat back. So right when we sit down we lose the normal curve and that curve becomes a straight line. Well what's the big deal about losing a curve in the low back? The problem is that now we've lost the shock absorbing properties of a spring. Remember before how we were talking about the curves of our spines providing shock absorption? Well now instead of our spines compressing and extending like they should, they become a rod, it's like pushing on both ends of a straw... there's just no give. So now instead of our spines absorbing the shock of gravity or bumps in a car the shock is absorbed by our spinal discs and that's a bad thing.

Discs are kind of like Jelly doughnuts, just tougher, and as the disc get compressed the jelly has a tendency to push out towards the edges. This causes what's called a disc bulge and eventually these disc bulges cause irritation to nerves that run very close to the discs. And since nerves control both sensations of pain and muscle function, bulging discs can cause not just pain but also stiff and tight muscles. So the simple act of sitting, causes the spine to straighten, lose it's normal arch and shock absorbing capabilities, thus putting all the pressure on the discs, which then can cause nerve irritation, which then cause pain and tightness. That's quite a downhill spiral all caused by just sitting!

Not only does sitting cause us to lose our spinal curves but if we were standing we could dissipate all the pressure into our thighs and lower legs and feet... but since we're sitting, now all the pressure goes directly to our low backs. We've stopped using our legs to dissipate the pressure. Plus the act of sitting causes our hips to twist into the sitting position, which causes a constant pull on where the muscles of the butt attach to the bones of the hips and low back. So we've got an orchestra of compression, pulling muscle fibers, irritated nerves and bulging discs! It's the worst thing humans can do for their bodies... and here I am, and you probably are as well... just sitting... minute after minute, hour after hour.

This leads me into a side bar here... have you ever known anyone with "No ass"? Or maybe your significant other makes fun of you for having no ass... and I feel for you if this is you... I've been there :) But I'm sure you know someone who seems to actually have a flat back and butt area... now these people have lots of back pain or eventually will. Cause they have no curves! Just a big rod for a spine, which is horribly irritating for the back. So if you know of people like this please try to get them in to see someone so they can hopefully prevent pain down the line.

As I sit here on my flight, suddenly realizing how far away the west coast actually is, I look around and see people of all ages.  The younger people are fine with all this sitting, most of them are actually asleep, and have curled up into such strange positions it's horrifying for a chiropractor to see! But they are young and can handle it. The spine and muscles of young people respond the way everything else does for young people, with resiliency. But when I look at myself or the 60 year old woman next to me I see a much different story. We're both fidgeting around and trying to stretch out constantly, because our spines have lost our normal squishy curves, from years of sitting and abuse.

The point of this blog is basically that human beings aren't designed to sit... period. And most back pain would go away if people didn't sit... thus making my job obsolete. Wait, no that's not what I wanted to say, scratch that. Sit as much as possible! haha... just kidding! But in actuality I sometimes have this conversation with people in the office. Where I say that the main issue here is the fact that someone sits all day. And of course they say "well I can't stop sitting" and I say "whelp enjoy seeing a chiropractor for the rest of your life." And I giggle... and they don't laugh... crickets :)

But in all seriousness, it's a tough problem to beat. Most people sit for 6-8 hours each and everyday of the work week, and there's nothing they can do about it. But the answer is to stop sitting! It's like going to see someone for eye pain cause you stare at the sun a lot... they would say stop staring at the sun and your eyes would stop hurting! With sitting it's just not that simple cause most people don't have a choice. Luckily we can help most people in the office, but it's not a permanent fix, these people would have to stop sitting to be cured of their pain. And you can't expect to reverse 8 hours of sitting by stretching for 30 seconds... it just doesn't happen! That being said there are a few things that people can do to minimize the damage of sitting.

1.  Get a back huggar for your chair. That's not a spelling error, that's the brand. Get it online, $30 or something like that. Put it in your chair at work. It will keep your low back curve from flattening out. 2.  Spend some time watching TV like a child. Basically get down on the floor on your stomach, put your elbows on the ground in front of you, and prop your head up with your hands. Look at any child for instruction. This position is basically the opposite of sitting. And for most people this kills their backs in the beginning because they've become so used to sitting and curling. But after a few weeks you'll be able to hold that position longer and longer. For those Yogis out there, this is similar to the cobra position.
3.  Get up and every 30 minutes for 10 seconds and then sit right back down. This breaks the compression cycle of sitting and may prevent some pain.
4. Stretch your TFL muscles by using a trigger point ball of some sort... or a lacrosse ball or anything small like that. Just lie on your side and have your TFL muscles, google them to figure out where they are, compress into the ball on the floor. Find a spot that really hurts, making sure you're not on the bone, and just lie on it for 3-5 minutes. Repeat on the other side. This will release the TFL muscles which get abnormally tight the longer you sit.
5.  See a chiropractor (shameless plug!) For some people, the back huggar and the lying on the stomach and getting up and stretching just aren't enough. And those people see chiropractors every month. We relieve the pressure and compression from weeks of sitting in about 15 minutes and then these people go right back to sitting... and we repeat this cycle. But for those people who can't find relief any other way it's a great thing to rely on.

The take home here is that humans weren't designed to sit and cross country flights are boring and painful. So quit your job and travel the country on foot from now on :) Happy sitting everyone!