What does sitting have to do with low back pain?
According the World Health Organization, 60% – 70% of people will experience low back pain (LBP) at some point in their lifetime. The Global Burden of Disease Study estimates that LBP is one of the top 10 disorders that contribute to the numbers of healthy life years lost to disease or disability. In other words, up to 7 out of 10 people will have LBP in their life and be in misery because of it. Low back pain is not all about acute injuries, like getting checked hard in a hockey game or rear-ended as you drive down the street. In fact, I would wager that at this very moment you are actively contributing to your LBP risk factors. How you ask? In a word: sitting.
They say sitting is the new smoking. Sitting has become an inevitable evil in our lives that has been forced upon us by our own technological advances. One of the key risk factors for LBP is “occupational posture deficits”, which is just a dressed up way of being tied to a desk. Although you may be rolling your eyes thinking “Tell me something I don’t already know”, I urge you to sit… errr I mean stand… and hear me out.
Science and Stuff
Before I tell you how to save yourself from this damning sentence of discomfort, I think it’s important to understand why low back pain occurs from sitting. Is back pain some mysterious unicorn that shows up at the golden age of 30, 40, 50? No Chicken Little. Back pain doesn’t just happen out of the blue and the sky is still not falling. The answer lies within the realm of physics and anatomy. Time to nerd out.
Our bodies are comprised of many cellular substances which combine together forming functional groups called tissues. There are four types of tissues within the body: epithelial, muscle, nervous and (our star for today) connective. Connective tissue is a supporting framework that connects, supports and binds structures within the body.
All connective tissues have two special properties: elastic stretch and viscous stretch. Elastic stretch is similar to that of a rubber band being stretched around a stack of note cards. Once the rubber band is removed from the note cards, it will take on its original shape leaving no memory of the shape it once held; it’s like a spring. Viscous stretch is similar to plastic wrap covering left-over sheppard’s pie (my favorite). The plastic wrap deforms and lengthens due to tensile stresses and will remain in its new conformation after the stress is removed. Therefore, our tissues have viscoelastic properties allowing for both lengthening elasticity and memory, kind of like a Stretch Armstrong doll.
Science Part Deux
The final piece to my compelling argument to get off your hind-end more frequently again rests in science. Another physical property associated with our body tissues is a phenomenon known as creep. Creep (not the Radiohead type) is the progressive deformation of a structure under a constant load or force. If this force is maintained, the tissue will continue to contort over time. Simply put, when the tissues in your body are subjected to stress (such as sitting in a rounded forward position for a long time) these tissues will change their shape to accommodate this position. When connective tissues become permanently lengthened, the tissues become weakened, increasing the likelihood of injury.
“Creep is the progressive deformation of a structure under a constant load or force.”
Piecing It All together
Now that we’ve embraced the science of our tissues, understanding why our low backs hurt after hours and hours of sitting is easy to grasp. Sitting promotes increased flexion in our low backs, multiplying forces applied to ligaments, tendons, muscle, discs, and fascia. These forces overcome our tissue’s ability to resists them, leading to micro-tears in the structural elements, causing physical and chemical irritation and pain.
What Can I do?
In this case, movement in medicine. The easiest answer is to sit less by taking breaks from your chair. Taking short, frequent breaks from sitting at your desk gives your body a chance to adapt back to a normal, healthier position. This will prevent the process of viscoelastic creep, promote a happy back, and help you break free from the dominion of technology with ninja punches.
Don’t want to do it all on your own? If you want to learn more ways to promote a bullet-proof back or would like some assistance in breaking free from tyranny of low back pain, give the office a call to book your initial exam today!