Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Aching back? Is it sitting posture? Or is it something else?

Aching Back? Sitting Up Straight Could Be The Culprit offers an interesting light on the problem of our aching backs. Some doctors in Scotland use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment to study the biomechanics of sitting posture to see if they could determine the optimal posture. They showed that sitting in an upright position places unnecessary strain on your back, leading to potentially chronic pain problems if you spend long hours sitting.

Their observation is that our bodies did not evolve in with a 90 degree body-thigh angle in mind. Instead the optimal body-thigh angle was found to be 130 degrees. In other words those kneeler chairs are pretty close to an optimal body-thigh angle. Another kind of chair that would be beneficial is one whose back reclines easily.

I'm having a hard time imagining a desk and chair arrangement where you can easily work while sitting in a chair that reclines to give you a 130 degree body-thigh angle. The kneeler chairs seem more feasible in this regard.

However let me offer a different consideration, which my chiropractor constantly is drumming into me. Stretching, walking, exercise, etc.

The problem, she says, is probably more to do with sitting for a long time. Modern life has most of us in work situations where we sit for long periods, perhaps in front of a computer. These force us to take body positions that are unnatural and leads to back pain and wrist problems like the carpal tunnel syndrome.

There's a simple solution, she says. Get up every 40 minutes or so, take a break, and walk around a bit. And, she recommends, stretch your muscles.

What I'm learning is, our bodies evolved through millennia to be physically active. Most of our ancestors did not work for long hours in unnatural sitting positions, like we do. Hence our bodies work better if they move around regularly and do strenuous things. So, why not incorporate some of that into your daily regimine?

There are some simple stretching exercises, or Yoga if you prefer, that can help you build strength in your muscles. And these stretching exercises act to loosen the muscles that may be learning to stay tight because you're sitting for long periods.