Whether you stare at a computer all day or hang out on your couch, prolonged sitting is wrecking your health in many ways.
Dr. Jay M. Shah, our double board-certified interventional pain specialist at SamWell Institute for Pain Management in Colonia and Livingston, New Jersey, sees the negative effects of long-term sitting and treats the conditions that result from a sedentary lifestyle. Here, he explains what happens to your body when you sit for hours on end without getting adequate exercise, and how you can turn your life and health around.
What prolonged sitting does to your body
At a minimum, your body needs at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day, ideally combined with strength training to keep your muscles toned and your heart and other organs functioning properly. That’s tough to do when you sit all day.
Unfortunately, the more you sit, the more you become accustomed to inactivity, and your sedentary lifestyle starts to feel “normal,” but your body knows better. Here are some ways prolonged sitting impacts your body.
Practicing good posture takes…well, practice. You have to consciously engage your core muscles, relax your neck and shoulders, keep your spine straight, and constantly monitor your joint angles.
This is nearly impossible if you sit for eight or more hours a day. Eventually, your posture slumps, your head drops, your neck bends, and your spine curves. The strain causes tight, painful muscles and “knots’ or trigger points.
Sitting places pressure on your spine from your neck to your lower back, and prolonged sitting increases the impact of that pressure. Add slouching to the equation, and the discs between your vertebrae can’t handle it — the inner nucleus bulges out, resulting in a herniated disc. Bulging and herniated discs apply pressure to nearby nerves and leave you in chronic pain.
Sitting all day gets your hips used to staying in the bent position, which tightens your hip flexors and restricts blood flow to the muscles in your hips and buttocks. Even if you don’t feel hip pain, your weak hip muscles affect your ability to move well.
Weak hips allow gravity to take over your body alignment, so your legs fall inward, applying pressure to your knees, leading to joint pain in your hips, knees, and ankles.
Your sciatic nerve runs from your lower back, through your buttocks, and down each leg. Compression anywhere along its length causes sciatica, resulting from various conditions, including a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, injury, fracture, tumor, piriformis syndrome — and even prolonged sitting.
Certainly, if you already have sciatica, sitting can exacerbate the condition.
Over time, prolonged sitting can affect your feet, too. As your poor posture and inactivity weaken your musculoskeletal system, each joint bears more pressure than it’s able, including your feet and ankles. When your hips and knees don’t carry the load, the arches in your feet are the last defense, and they eventually fall under the weight, leaving you with flat feet.
How we treat chronic pain related to prolonged sitting
The best thing you can do to counteract the effects of prolonged sitting is to move more. You may not be able to control the amount of time you’re required to sit at a desk, but you can control what you do when your shift is over.
Incorporating at least 30 minutes of exercise into your day — even if you have to break it up into shorter sessions — goes a long way toward counteracting the negative effects of sitting. Set alerts to remind yourself to take a break and walk around your office, schedule walking meetings, and park farther away from the building,
Vary your position, focus on your posture, and consider investing in a standing desk. Studies show that standing at your desk for 30 minutes every hour can help you burn 5.5 more calories than sitting alone and 8.2 more calories if you stand for the whole hour. And losing weight can alleviate some of the pain associated with sitting.
If prolonged sitting has left you with a herniated disc, joint problems, or another source of chronic pain. Dr. Shah can help. He uses the latest technology in our state-of-the-art facilities to treat your chronic pain. Your customized treatment plan depends on your underlying condition and may include:
- Nerve blocks
- Epidural steroid injections
- Radiofrequency ablation
- Spinal cord stimulation
- Medial branch blocks
- Minimally invasive lumbar decompression (MILD)
- Joint injections
These are just a sampling of the many treatments Dr. Shah offers. To find out which treatment is right for your chronic pain, contact us online or by phone to schedule a consultation with Dr. Shah.