Disclaimer: I am an engineer. I have nothing to do with medicine and I don’t give any medical advice. Thank you.
A post on health might seem like an odd topic to find here given the theme of this blog; however, this topic is directly related to my journey. In fact, the entire thing is dependent on it.
Working on this blog is something I do while sat down. But it’s not just that, almost everything I’m doing, I do while sitting down starring at something, either reading for studies, writing assignments/homework, working on every single job I’ve ever had, watching TV, typing a blog post, researching a topic, or just scrolling through social media pages, etc.
That is a lot of sitting down! And this can be seriously dangerous if you are not paying attention to how long you are doing this and the way you are actually doing it.
I have been suffering from neck and shoulder pain for quite a long time, but only in recent months did it become so intolerable that I was forced to do a checkup, to find I have severe tight neck muscles and some kind of irritation in my cervical spine nerves (aka a pinched nerve).
An irritation in the cervical spine causes “pain that radiates into the shoulder, as well as muscle weakness and numbness that travels down the arm and into the hand.”
I have been taking medications and getting ultrasound therapy. But it’s not like the flu; and it doesn’t go away that quickly or that easily. I have been getting treatment on and off for the past 5-6 months. And many of the medications I have taken had some nasty side effects. So this is no walk in the park, it is bad and painful.
And I must say that, for the most part, I have been entirely dependent on the medications alone to do their magic and fix this, without much effort on my part.
But I’ve reached to a point where I got sick and tired of always being in horrific pain whenever I have to use my arm to carry something or, mistakenly, lean on it when I’m getting out of bed and feel as if a power drill is punching a hole through my shoulder.
So, I started to do some reading into this to try and find things that I can do on my part, to help fix this along with the medications.
But, first, let me tell you how bad this can actually get and why you should pay attention too!
- How sitting for long periods of time affects your health
- The 5 ways sitting in a bad posture affects your health
- What is a good sitting posture?
- 5 ways to maintain a good posture
- 5 things to help relief back pain
How Sitting For Long Periods Of Time Affects Your Health
Sitting is the new smoking is a study made in the US claiming that sitting for one hour straight is as unhealthy as smoking two cigarettes.
They explain that sitting still for over 6 hours a day is as unhealthy for your body as smoking a pack and a quarter of cigarettes in a day.
And that according to a study focused on the causes of chronic diseases, it is found that sitting for long hours is the number one contributer to developing a chronic disease (in the US).
Another study conducted by a number of leading professors in the UK was made on sedentary behaviour and its effect on both young and adults. And it concludes that sitting for long durations of time can cause obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and early death.
How To Avoid These Issues
It is highly advised that in order to avoid the serious health issues that accompanies sitting for too long, you should have a break every 30 minutes.
So every 30 minutes you need to get up for one or two minutes; you can do some stretches, walk to get a drink, or just do any kind of movement to break the idle position that your body has been in for the past 30 minutes.
There are some apps that are created specifically to help you do that, or you can simply set a timer on your phone for 30 minutes to work as a reminder that it’s time for you to move.
5 Ways A Bad Sitting Posture Affects Your Health
As per multiple studies and scientific researches made on the negative side effects of sitting in a wrong posture, it is found that your sitting posture can affect you in many more ways than just the way your body looks.
1. Back and spinal column
Starting the list with the more obvious problem that arises from sitting in a bad posture: back pain.
Sitting in a wrong posture can cause pain in the upper back, lower back, and the neck. The pain can also spread to include your arms, hands, legs and feet, depending on the part affected in the spinal column.
One of the medical conditions it can lead to is a pinched nerve.
Beside the fact that it causes a lot of pain, a pinched nerve, if left untreated, can cause chronic pain and permanent nerve damage which can lead to a disability, depending on the area controlled by the affected nerves.
And it is quite alarming to know that, according to this research, for every 2.5 cm your head moves forward, you add 0.45 kg of extra wight on your spine. A human’s head weighs between 4.5 and 5.5 kg.
So, if you are starring down at your phone, for example, that is about 13 cm of leaning forward which adds 5.85 kg of extra weight on your neck and spine. Adding to that the actual head weight, and you get an average of 11 kg of weight that is being dragged by your neck and spinal column. That is also the average weight of a 2-year old child.
2. Lungs and breathing
When you are sitting in a pitched forward position, the lungs slump forward and become compressed with the diaphragm moving up further in the chest which decreases the amount of oxygen entering your lungs by 30%.
Decreasing your oxygen intake, in turn, affects your energy levels and your ability to concentrate. It will also lead to feelings of fatigue and cause headaches.
3. Blood pressure
According to a study made in the UK, scientists found that sitting in the wrong posture where your shoulders and back are slouched is likely to affect your blood pressure.
The neck muscle cells signal the brain when sensing movement in the neck, to ensure adequate blood supply as the body changes posture. This system, however, breaks down when cells incur damage from poor posture, resulting in blood pressure either higher or lower than optimum.
4. Digestive organs
Sitting in a slouched posture compresses the digestive organs which can make them incapable of functioning properly. It slows the movement of your intestines which can cause digestion problems such as bloating or constipation.
This effect on digestive organs can also impact your metabolism.
5. Mental health
From my own take and what I noticed, when you are slouched in your chair, it creates a feeling of laziness and sometimes you’d feel down or easily irritated, unlike when you are straightened up, it feels like you are more open, awake and active.
And according to this research publication, the posture in which you are sitting does indeed affect your mood. A bad/slouched posture leads to being more prone to and easily affected by negative thoughts and emotions; while sitting in an upright position reduces stress and generally enhances the person’s mood and their mindset.
And as another experiment concluded, people that sit in an upright posture tend to easily remember more positive memories and have positive thoughts than those in a bad posture.
What Is A Good Sitting Posture?
There are a few things that you need to pay attention to when you sit down in order to make sure you are in the right posture.
- Your feet should be flat on the ground with your knees making a right angle and are at the same level as your hips or slightly lower.
- Your back is straight and chest is stretched so that your shoulders are not slouched/arched.
- Your head is positioned where your chin is parallel to your hips and your ears paralleled to your shoulders.
5 Things To Help Maintain A Good Sitting Posture
All that doctors have been saying over and over is that I should keep a good posture, “try to always sit with a straightened back and stretched
shoulders and don’t lean forward with your head.”
So, I am completely aware that this is what I am supposed to do. But how do I keep that posture for the entire 5-7 hours I am sitting on my laptop?
I’m only able to maintain this position when conscious about my posture, but then I get distracted with what I’m actually doing and, an hour later, I find myself back to the hunched-over-the-laptop position with slouched shoulders and forward neck again.
This happens because, to me, this is the more natural and comfortable position, where I don’t have to be all the way stretched. So, I needed a more practical solution.
Here are 4 things I do that can help keep a good, healthy posture for as long as you are sitting.
1. Sit on a cushion
Because sometimes the desk and chair I’m sitting on are not in good alignment where my arms and elbows are in a perfect straight line position.
In my case, it is usually that the chair is lower than the desk, and so I sit on a cushion which helps me maintain that position.
2. Roll pillow behind your back
This has been a real savior. Because, like I mentioned earlier, it can get really uncomfortable when I try to keep my back in a straight position for a long time, so putting a roll pillow* or roll cushion behind my back works as a support for the middle part of my back which both makes me feel way more comfortable and it sort of automatically enhances the way I’m sitting anyway without much effort on my part.
But even when I tend to slouch a little bit, it also works as a continuous reminder to get back to the right position.
3. Place the laptop at an arm’s length
This could be something that most people do already, but I only realized that recently and, oh my god, it is such a relief when I type now.
I have always had my laptop placed right at the edge of the desk and so my arms and elbows are usually just hanging the entire time I’m typing, which causes more pressure and therefore more pain in my shoulders.
How to make sure that you are in a good, comfortable posture where your arm is always supported is if you push the laptop far on the desk, so that your arms up until your elbows are supported by the desk itself and then type that way.
There is also a really helpful video that shows even more ways to help you keep a good posture, not just while sitting on a computer but when watching TV, playing games, or using your phone. You can watch it here.
4. Set a timer
Setting a timer to alert you every 15-20 minutes can work as a reminder to both move around or straighten up and correct your posture. There are even some phone and computer apps that can help you do this.
But if you are not interested in an application, you can simply create several alarms on your phone, or a timer every 15-20 minutes, as a posture reminder.
One of the things that can help maintain a good posture at all times is if your body feels relaxed and comfortable at that posture. And one way to get your body to that level of comfort is if you do certain stretches that help with the back and upper body’s flexibility, so that keeping a straightened back and stretched shoulders no longer feels uncomfortable or weird (or, like me, makes you feel like a cyborg).
Below are some example stretches that I do. You can find more of them and information about each pose and its benefits here.
And eventually, if you are already suffering (like me), here are a few things to help with that too.
5 Things To Help Relief Back Pain
1. Heating pad
Placing a hot water bottle* or a heating pad* (this is the one I use) on the area of your back or neck that hurts can reduce the pain, because the heat relaxes the muscles and speeds the blood flow to that area. This is one of the things that I have been advised to do for my neck and shoulder pain and part of the physical therapy treatment I am getting.
2. Herbal cream
There are some herbal creams available that help ease muscle pain. They are made entirely of natural ingredients; however, you should still consult a doctor before using any.
You would simply take a sufficient amount of cream on the tip of your fingers and start applying it on the affected area. It can work even better if you do so after you have applied the heating pad.
A massage, especially in the neck and shoulders area, can work as a great pain relief because mostly the pain in this area is caused by the pressure put on those muscles to hold your head. So, by massaging that area, you help those tightened muscles to loosen and relax.
You can simply massage the area with your hand, go to a spa, or you can buy a massager that you can use at home or at work. (I found the latter to be a more convenient option and so I use a similar Shaitsu massager to this one*).
5. Medical treatment
This is of course an obvious step to take if you are indeed suffering from such pain, because leaving it untreated for a long time can cause even more damage which would take a longer treatment period or worse, could cause a permanent damage to your body.
So make sure you consult your doctor to get the right advice and treatment needed for your situation.
Till next week, happy days (and healthy bodies)!
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