Don't Just Sit There!

Published August 28, 2017

By Tobi Smith, OTR/L, CHT, from the CAO Mid-Maryland Musculoskeletal Institute care center

What activity could contribute to neck, shoulder, and back pain? You can probably think of a lot of activities - but what if I said you were doing it right now? Unless you’re extremely coordinated, then you are probably sitting down while reading this with your computer or smartphone. And yes, just sitting can cause or contribute to many of the pains and postural problems we have now.

Sitting isn’t really the problem, but rather it's the amount of time we spend doing it. Picture your average day and let’s add the time you sit down. Meals, commuting, work, and TV time all contribute to our daily sitting total. For many of us that can add up to 8-12 hours. That’s a lot of sedentary time for muscles to get tight, tired and weak.

The area most commonly affected by sitting is your posterior or backside. From your neck to your toes, the muscles over your posterior help to hold you upright. When you sit for extended periods, especially if you slouch, those muscles on your back become overstretched and weak while the muscles on your front become short and tight. It is this muscular adaptation that leads to many of the aches and pains we develop.

So how do we fix it? The answer is simple: Move! Every 20-30 minutes you’re sitting, try to get up and stretch. Take a short walk, march in place or do some simple joint mobility work. Joint mobility is simply moving all the joints of your body in every direction they can. Do some lunges, hold your arms in front and spread apart as the opening your chest. Even the old song Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes works. Just go through it a couple times.

The most important thing to avoid is periods of prolonged sitting. Your body will thank you for it.

Tobi Smith is a registered and licensed Occupational Therapist and Certified Hand Therapist caring for patients at the Mid-Maryland Musculoskeletal Institute care center in Frederick, Maryland. He has expertise in the shoulder, hand and upper extremity. Tobi's personal interests include Cross-fit, body weight exercises, hunting and fishing.