Until six months ago, Gurugram-based Saurabh Yadav, 36, director purchasing at an automobile company, flew at least 15 times every month. Those captive sitting hours inside the plane, coupled with his sedentary job in office took a toll on his back and lead to severe back pain. Mrinal Sharma, senior consultant and head orthopedics, Asian Institute of Medical Sciences, Faridabad, with whom Yadav consulted, told him that there had been changes in the structure of his spine and advised him against long distance travel (sitting in the car or flying). Yadav was also told to do spinal exercises daily to solve his back pain problem.
Chances are that you too sit for eight plus hours each day, take long flights or have long commute hours. Most of us have a natural tendency to slouch when sitting. This position can mess us up in multiple ways. “It can not only land us with sore limbs and bestow us with a fatter middle, it can also mess up our bone and lead to serious muscle health downgrade," explains Dr Sharma. Sitting is a very stressful posture for the spine as it loads the discs twice as much as standing, says Garima Anandani, senior spine specialist and clinical director, QI Spine Clinic, a clinic dedicated to spine rehabilitation in Mumbai.
Stiff and sore neck is a common problem faced due to long sitting hours as this leads to a muscular imbalance known as “upper crossed syndrome". In this syndrome, shortening of the pectoralis (breast) muscles and a weakness of the shoulder blade retractors occurs which leads to a round upper back, and as a consequence, there is tightness in the neck muscles. This leads to neck pain, radiating to the shoulders, and at times headache too, explains Dr Anandini. This is what happened to 46-year-old Ajit Agarwal, an entrepreneur from Mumbai. His work, like for many of us, involves a lot of sitting activities like meetings, attending calls, supervising employees and long hours of travel. He began suffering from severe neck pain in 2004, which then extended to his back. Finally the pain became so bad and frequent that in 2017 he had to go on complete bed rest for almost three months. Now Agarwal takes many precautions. He has changed his work station entirely, bought a laptop stand and carries a lumbar roll everywhere when travelling in the car. “I take posture breaks every one hour by walking more or doing some extensions and stretches. I go for spine rehabilitation once a week at least and do my daily exercises every morning," he says.
Dr Sharma adds that this problem is more common in people who are in stressful jobs. “When stressed (for example, due to a looming deadline) our shoulders begin to elevate as part of our fight or flight response. This position fatigues the muscles in the neck and upper back," he explains.
Often while you are hard at work, your butt is not working at all. Sitting requires your glutes (three muscles which make up the buttocks) to do absolutely nothing, and they get used to it. “Soft glutes hurt your stability, and over time, if it goes unchecked, can lead to chronic lower back pain, extending to the buttock area. This often extends to other weak muscles too like those in the knees and ankles," says Sharma.
It is a well known fact that sitting for too long harms our body but until we make a concerted effort to stay mobile at the workplace, there is little we can do to save our bodies.
How to sit right
• Avoid prolonged sitting. When sitting, keep the elbows at 90 degrees and always supported.
• Keep the back upright and supported with a back supporting the chair. Make sure that the laptop screen is at same level as the eyes.
• Keep rotating your ankles and moving your toes even while sitting.
• Exercise and stretch your neck every now and then.
• Support low back to prevent slouching. Always sit in the chair with your low back touching the lower part of the chair back.
• If you spend long hours sitting, use a Lumbar roll. Consult a spine specialists to know which lumbar support roll is best suited to your pain.
—Dr Mrinal Sharma