The probability of something life changing happening to me on the way to work is slim. But recently one morning when I was in the car driving to work I listened to a segment on NPR that changed my life.
Let me preface this article by saying I’m an active person. I exercise regularly, eat healthy, and live a busy lifestyle. My favorite types of classes are cycle, kickboxing, dance and yoga. But when I’m at work I’m forced to sit for hours and hours on end in front of a computer. Despite regular standing and stretching breaks, frequent walks to the printer, and bathroom breaks I was finding that my back was hurting almost all day. At work I’m busy enough that I am able to ignore the vast majority of the pain, but when I’m in the car on my way home attempting to destress and reflect on my day that deep soreness in my lower back starts steadily increasing. I find myself shifting my weight side to side, frequently trying to sit up straighter with no relief.
Enter National Public Radio (NPR)
I’m a radio buff. When I drive to work I enjoy listening to current events and intriguing news stories because it makes my commute go by much quicker. On one auspicious day there was a segment on posture which focused on sitting. This made me think about what percentage of my week I spend sitting.
A conservative estimate for most people would be a 40 hour work week, which means that a person spends 33% of their work week sitting. But if you break it down even further and add things like: sitting in a car or on public transportation, coming in early or staying late at the office, sitting down for lunch, sitting down at meetings, waiting at the doctor’s office, watching you kid’s soccer practice, hanging out with the family watching a movie, sitting down for dinner, etc. We spend much more time than we think just sitting.
Work Does Not Have to Be Painful…
And yet for so many people… it is.
2015 data from The National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) a major data collection program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is telling. The NHIS collected data on low back pain attributed to work, and created a chart depicting prevalence of back pain in the population by industry, and also by occupation.
The most affected industries are agriculture/forestry/farming, construction, and healthcare.
The most affected occupations are construction/extraction, personal care and service industries, and transportation/material moving.
Quality Over Quantity
There are many industries and occupations that are more prone to lower back pain than others, but not everyone who works in those jobs has back pain. So what makes the difference? Of course everyone’s anatomy is different, and there are some attributes that make certain individuals more prone to low back problems. However, there is growing sentiment that it’s not how long a person sits that creates the problem… it’s how.
Learning How to Sit
Scott Donkin, an internationally published author, experienced chiropractor, and author of Sitting on the Job is an expert in balance and physical performance. He presented a TED Talk in Lincoln, Nebraska and demonstrated how to sit in a healthier way.
Jean Couch the author of The Runner’s Yoga Book and founder and director of the Balance Center in Palo Alto, California is an expert in all things spinal health including: yoga, movement, stretching, and balance. She suggests 3 easy ways to sit comfortably with good posture in any chair.
Sit on the edge
Aim for the front part of the chair which is usually the hard part
This keeps you from adopting a “C” shaped spine and helps you sit more like an exclamation point
You want your knees below your hip sockets, not in line with them
Build a perch
A perch is an item you use to sit on to help improve your posture
The idea is to place it toward the front of the chair and then sit on it with an untucked pelvis
The nice thing is you can build a perch out of almost anything
If you don’t have a pillow you can use a jacket, rolled up towel, blanket, wallet, or even your purse
You definitely won’t be able to sit toward the front of your chair when driving or flying, nor should you try for safety reasons
Most airplane seats and car seats are terrible for your back because they force your spine into a “C” shape
How you combat this is by creating a support for your back
You can use the same item you use to build your perch and place it at your mid back
This serves to straighten out your spine and sit more comfortably
Love Your Spine
I never thought as an adult that I would need to retrain myself how to sit. I also wasn’t prepared for how challenging it would be. When you’ve been sitting one way for decades, and then decide you want to change that it takes a lot of practice and patience. But the good news is, it’s possible. I tried several of the above techniques with such great success that I wanted to share what I learned. It’s amazing how such small changes can make such a big difference.
ABOUT ANJANI AMLADI, MD
Anjani Amladi, M.D. graduated from the University of California at Davis in 2010 with a degree in Biological Sciences. She received her M.D. from the Commonwealth Medical College in 2015 and completed her Adult Psychiatry residency training at UCSF Fresno in 2018. She is currently pursuing subspecialty training in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Her hobbies include travel, cooking, exercise, dog training, reading and writing.