The health perils of sitting for lengthy periods are well-documented, but studies conducted in the past have focused primarily on sitting in a work setting, at a desk. That discovery led to the development of now-popular standup desks, ergonomic office stools, and exercise balls to give us healthier options.
Now that many are working from home for an extended period of time due to COVID-19 best practices, people are sitting for even longer periods, between working and doing the things that have become popular while isolating: playing board games, streaming movies, and working jigsaw puzzles.
Dr. Benjamin Cohen, board-certified neurosurgeon, helps his patients head off pain caused by this habit and offers some ways to ensure that you change your position regularly and move more. As with most other areas of wellness, preventive care is key in warding off back problems.
How does sitting harm the back?
Placing yourself in a seated position for too long causes all kinds of problems for your back and spine, and they’re exacerbated if you also have poor posture and tend to hunch:
- Stresses your back overall
- Puts pressure on spinal discs
- Compresses your back muscles excessively
- Causes overly stretched spinal ligaments
- Strains the discs
If you sit on average more than six hours a day, back problems are just the start. This specific type of inactivity also contributes to other serious conditions, like diabetes, depression, and heart disease.
How can the type of sitting we do at home be so different from how we sit at work?
You’d be surprised. Now that the problems associated with sitting for hours are better known, offices got on board with outfitting employees’ work stations with ergonomically efficient chairs and portable desktop attachments that you can adjust for your height.
These measures encourage people to mix it up a bit, and spend at least part of their workday standing.
One study done by researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center followed 3,500 participants over the course of eight years, tracking and comparing how much they sat at home versus at the office.
The findings were grim for the sit-at-homers. Those who sat more in their abodes ended up having a greater risk of heart disease, for example, but the thing that seemed to make the health risks skyrocket most was something you usually only do at home: watch TV.
Even though this study didn’t specifically touch on how sitting at home harmed the back, it highlighted the differences between our home and work environments.
Certain features found only in our homes contribute to back trouble in multiple ways:
- Slouching in comfy, less structured furniture strains the back and offers little to no lumbar support
- Sitting in a chair playing a game on your phone causes you to tilt your head forward, which puts a strain on your upper back muscles
- We’re creating makeshift work spaces and desks at home; instead of sitting at desks that are meant for working, many are “winging it” and piling books on top of a surface that’s too low to work comfortably at, for example
- Going off our back-friendly exercise programs definitely doesn’t support our backs, but is happening more and more as our routines are disrupted
- Sitting and eating all the treats you’re baking while in quarantine contributes to added girth, which strains your back
Even though this is an unusually challenging time that we’re all navigating differently, try to maintain health routines, get up and move around regularly at home, and mix it up when it comes to sitting and standing. Your back will thank you.
Avoid sitting too much at home and dodge a plethora of back problems
Sitting, uninterrupted at home for extended periods puts you at risk for many types of back pain, and it can worsen the pain of conditions like degenerative disk disease.
Dr. Cohen’s services feature everything from conservative treatments like anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections, and physical therapy, but he’s also here to provide simple and complex surgical solutions if they become necessary.
In the meantime, know that you can take steps and initiate lifestyle practices that will support your back health. With Dr. Cohen on your team, you have access to his knowledge, skills, and sincere concern.
Investigate back care options
Call our office to schedule an in-office appointment or telehealth visit today.