Sitting for A Living
Part One: Unbearable Stiffness
“Sitting is the new smoking” or so the phrase goes. There’s some sobering truth to that. Humans sit a lot! We sit when we drive. We sit when we eat. We sit when we read or watch a movie or television. And for many of us, we sit when we work. 40 hours a week (at least) we sit, holding the same position for periods that span several hours as our focus on work intensifies.
Over time, working at a computer, prolonged sitting, and using a mouse repetitively can collectively cause carpal tunnel syndrome, sciatica, headaches, migraines, frozen shoulder, low back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, and many other forms of pain from muscle tension. How can sitting – basically doing nothing – cause so many problems?
Humans are animals, and I think we’ve forgotten. We eerily behave more and more like machines, performing the same actions over and over. I don’t mean to imply that we have no activity left in our lives. However, I do suggest that an hour at the gym – every day even, can’t alone fight the effects of sitting for a majority of the workday. When we hold the same position in our bodies for HOURS at a time, there’s no heart rate elevation to help strengthen the heart and force blood through the body, drenching our muscles and organs with fresh, restorative blood. There’s no physical break in the pattern of holding one position to move our muscles and fascia. And so things start to become “stuck”. Anytime you use the word “stuck” to describe a joint, you can bet fascia is involved!
Let’s explore fascia a little more…
Fascia is the connective tissue surrounding every muscle, every internal organ, and everything in between. It’s the fibrous “glue” that holds everything in our bodies together. The expanded definition of fascia includes scar tissue, tendons, and ligaments as well. While we may identify different areas by names like the IT band for example, it is all one connected system.
When we sleep, the spaces in between our muscles build fascia on a microscopic level. This is a healing mechanism, repairing cells from the day’s activities. Have you ever noticed how your dog or cat stretches immediately upon waking? They’re bringing blood, oxygen, and movement all that fascia that’s formed during their sleep. When fascia is allowed to remain motionless, it begins to stiffen. Stiff fascia tightens around the muscle, squeezing it like shrink wrap. At this point, blood doesn’t circulate efficiently, which furthers the problem and creates a cycle. But remember, fascia is a whole system, so this stiffening can easily grow to cover very large areas of the body, such as the upper back all the way up through the neck.
Fun fact: There are up to 10 times more nerve endings in fascia, than in muscle. Often, that highly sensitive, sometimes “burning” pain you experience that seems to hurt more than it should, is fascia! This is one of the most noticeable benefits to Massage Cupping, which is a technique that uses suction to pull tight fascia away from muscle, thus allowing fresh blood cells to flood the area. Once this happens, things are dramatically less sensitive and more moveable! Witnessing a client experience this for the first time is among my favorite of job perks!
Fascia thrives on hydration and movement. The best way to keep it healthy is by staying well-hydrated and by moving. Stretch! Often! Especially if your career requires a lot of sitting, make a conscious effort to shift and move throughout the day. The reason stand-up / sit-down adjustable desks are so terrific is not because you can then stand all day (which is no better). It’s because it gives you an option that is drastically different from the seated position. Moving from a seated position to standing pumps your blood a little harder, wakes up your fascia, and moves your joints.
Another great idea is to start your day with a couple of stretches. Before you even get out of bed, reach your arms above your head and stretch as far as you can down to your toes. Take deep breaths. Twist your trunk to the left, and then to the right. More deep breaths. Your blood is flowing now. Your brain has oxygen. Your fascia is moving. These small changes to your day add up and make a profound difference, just like hours of prolonged sitting.
This blog post was inspired by a conversation I had with a client recently. I had given her the visual of animals stretching after sleep, and recommended she follow suit. A few weeks later, she gleefully told me she had been starting her day with a few simple stretches, and had noticed a significant difference in the way her body felt – even when sitting! I invite you to explore this idea, and I challenge you to incorporate more movement into your workday. You won’t believe how such a small change can make such an enormous difference!