The dangers of sitting

Kent Sport health and fitness instructor Sarah Black explains the side-effects of sitting around and recommends we get active!

In my experience of dealing with clients, the most common injuries, pains and complaints I hear are related to the lower back. Almost 95% of people will suffer from back pain in their lifetime. In 2005 – 2006, 3.7 million work days were lost due to lower back pain. It costs the NHS one billion pounds every year on back related care and treatment. 33% of the UK population are currently suffering from lower back pain and it is the second biggest reason people request sick days in the UK, only being topped by viral infections.

I want to outline my thoughts on the subject, then I will further educate you on the causes, symptoms and treatment surrounded with lower back pain. I will also hopefully give you some guidance on avoiding the factors that contribute to lower back pain.

The average individual – and I must emphasize average – wakes up, gets changed, then sits down and has some breakfast. They then set off for work, take a seat as they are transported to the place of work via the mode of commuting. Walk a few yards to the office, make a cup of tea and then head over to their desk, where they take a seat for around 3.5 hours. Lunch time beckons and the individual walks over to the bistro and sits down for lunch. Back to the desk to have a seat. Work time over and the person then goes to car/bus/bike/train and sits to get home. At home they do a few chores and then sit down for dinner and television. Maybe though I’m being too harsh, the person now decides to go to the gym? However they will also most likely sit on a bike to do cardio exercise. Or sit on some machines to achieve strength training?

Upon returning home, back to sit on the couch, then its bed time. Do I need to further explain this pattern of sitting? Individually I want you to work out how many hours there are in a day, how many are spent sleeping, how many are spent sitting and how many you spend standing? If you are still confused as why you have lower back pain, come and see me. I’ll do your maths for you! Is it not obvious as to why we have a lower back pain pandemic?

The main type of back pain is non specific lower back pain. Pain can be stiffness, tension and is normally localised below the costal margins and above the inferior gluteal folds (with or without leg pain). The main causes of lower back pain are;

  • Malignancy, infection, fracture.
  • Arthritis and other inflammatory disorders
  • Disc problems, joint dysfunction
  • Nerve compression or irritation
  • Loss of bone density, muscle ligament sprains or skeletal issues.

Other factors like lifestyle causes include repetitive work and strain, especially flexion movements. Poor posture. Physical heavy lifting and twisting. Stress, obesity and lifestyle habits that invite poor circulation and mobility.

Historically doctors used to advise bed rest to sufferers. However, studies have shown that taking other measures of treatment are more beneficial. Muscle tensions increase and stress can add to the pain due to blood diverting from the digestive system, causing further tightness in that area. Immunity can be suppressed and endocrine imbalances occur when negative thinking develops in respect of the painful situation. Advice would be to avoid the catastrophic fear that exercise and movement will worsen your situation. You need to adapt your lifestyle to treat the causes. Hurt does not mean harm, don’t worry as lower back pain is very common. Therefore staying active and establishing the correct route of treatment will ensure you recover fully. Stage one would be to identify the reason of your pain. For example if it is due to heavy lifting – stop picking up too heavy an object or change your technique. Weak core? Address this with strengthening exercises and attending pilates regularly. Weight Issues? Time to address the diet!

There are plenty of ways we can help ourselves solve this necessity to sit down. Put a timer on your phone and be conscious that when it rings, the sign is to get up and move about. Make a habit of walking to work or the shops, trace your fitness with a mobile app or fitbit. If you want to avoid lower back pain, you need to address the harmful causes and work at achieving fitness and health through mobility.

Once you have diagnosed your causes, then plan your treatment strategically.

We have 33 vertebrae in the spine. 23 intervertebral discs that make up ¼ of the spines length. Spinal nerves pass through the foramen that lie directly behind the discs, so any bulges have the chance that a nerve could become compressed. Intervertebral discs are avascular meaning they don’t have a blood supply so therefore heal slowly. During the day we can reduce 2 cm of the discs thickness due to pressure, which hopefully can be regained when we unload them at night. In an upright position these discs are enduring a 100% compression load, 25% when we are sleeping and a whopping 140% compression whilst we are sitting down. Help your self out… move, adjust, mobilise. The invention of the chair has a lot to answer for and responsible for many health concerns.

With age shock absorbency of the discs are reduced, the cartilage surrounding the discs become weaker and the fluid inside of them known as nucleus pulposus becomes dehydrated. I can not emphasize the importance of maintaining a healthy spine enough! The spine is literally – our back bone! It allows us to move freely and function. A lot of clients say to me “I have a bad back!” No – they do bad exercises to their back!

This article highlights issues relating to lower back pain, but it does not detail the vast amounts and complexity that is surrounded with back pain and the degree in which it can develop. I strongly recommend getting professional advice and diagnosis if you suffere from lower back pain. Self-diagnosis can often be dangerous, so when in doubt – seek out.

To seek advice from our health, fitness and physiotherapy team call 01227 823623 or drop by the Sports Centre or Pavilion and ask at reception. To stay up to date with Kent Sport news, follow UniKentSports on social media.

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