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December 10, 2020
The year 2020 has changed the world forever. Things that most people never considered to be "a thing" have become consistent occurrences. Things like working from home with non-stop virtual meetings, decrease in exercise, mental health crises, and dietary adjustments have all played a role in what has led to increased musculoskeletal issues. The COVID-19 pandemic has subjected many people to a desk and chair, or better yet, the comfort of their beds to conduct day-to-day business. Most of these options lack proper ergonomic set up, putting stress on key muscles groups in the neck, upper back, hips, core, glutes, and low back. Let's focus on the low back today.
As biped mammals’ humans were designed for walking and mobility with their legs. However, new age society has brought our species to a position where sitting and sedentary lifestyles have become the norm. This reality, although very convenient at times, has brought about important musculoskeletal consequences – most specifically, low back pain. As a biomechanist my primary objective is to identify things in the anatomy that are impacting the health and wellness of joints and muscles in an individual. One key point of focus has been the incidence of prolonged sitting.
The health of the low back muscles is directly correlated to the strength of the abdominal core muscles, the optimal strength and muscle firing of the glutes, and the alignment of key lumbar and sacroiliac joints on the spine. When there is an imbalance in these muscle groups the direct result is stress on the low back leading to pain. Research performed in 2006 by Waseem Amir Bashir, MBChB, clinical fellow in the department of radiology and diagnostic imaging at the University of Alberta Hospital, Canada concluded that if people are to sit for an extended period, they should sit in a chair that is 135 degrees of incline with both feet planted on the floor to reduce the amount of stress on the spine and therefore reduce back pain¹.
Sitting for more than 1 hour has been shown to promote biochemical changes in fat and sugar metabolism that leads to the deposit of fats in adipose tissue rather than these being processed by muscle². Further to that, the catch phrase, “if you don’t use it, you lose it” is in play more than ever. Research conducted by Cornell University validated that sitting for a prolonged amount of time can be detrimental to your health and prescribed a solution that recommends increments of 20 min of sitting, 8 min of standing, and most importantly 2 minutes of moving.
The key to movement is that is promotes healthy circulation in the limbs and encourages use of active muscle contraction from the core & hip flexors and hip extensors & glutes. This directly effects the chronic overuse and stress on the low-back, which prevents one from running the risk of chronic pain. This helps sustain the health of the joints, the spine discs and reduces the risk for Lower Cross Syndrome or other conditions that can accelerate arthritic changes in your joints.
Exercise is important, but basic movement is even more important. We all understand the stress and struggles of the present times, but our bodies physically cannot afford to be neglected. Make time in your schedule for small breaks. Stretch during those breaks. Take a walk around the room or up the stairs in that time. Pay more attention to the seat you use (or do not use) during your virtual calls. Find time for refueling with water, fruits, and a balanced meal. Self-care is the most important solution that we have to the growing concerns surrounding obesity, musculoskeletal conditions, and overall health. Take action and take control of your own well-being.
1. Annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, Chicago. Nov. 26-Dec. 1, 2006. News release, Radiological Society of North America.
2. Hedge, Alan. “Sitting and Standing at Work.” CUergo: Sitting and Standing, 2017, ergo.human.cornell.edu/CUESitStand.html.
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