The Sitting Epidemic – Do You Sit Too Much?
Are you guilty of sitting too much?? Today’s blog provides a brief overview of the harmful effects of prolonged sitting and several solutions to break out of the habit of sitting too long!
Fact #1: Sitting increases pressure and load on the intervertebral discs in your back.
Relationship between body posture and intradiscal pressure by intravital recordings .
As shown in the diagram above, there is less pressure being placed on the disc in the upright standing position relative to sitting position. Furthermore, sitting with a forward lean and load placed on the spine (far right) is more detrimental than standing with a forward lean and load placed on the spine. This constant pressure on the disc from sitting can cause migration of the nucleus pulposus (gel-like substance within the inner core of the disc) towards the spinal canal, which has the possibility of eventually leading to a disc bulge or herniation.
Fact #2: Excessive sitting is linked to being overweight, type 2 diabetes and slow metabolism.
Studies across the UK and North America have concluded that the harmful effects of sitting cannot be offset by daily exercise. Prolonged sitting in the long term causes your body’s natural metabolism to slow down, in addition to a number of other detrimental health side effects. Slowing down of your body’s metabolism can affect your ability to regulate blood pressure, blood sugar, and break down body fat .
Fact #3: Your body was designed for movement.
Our bodies were NOT designed for us to live a sedentary lifestyle indoors or to sit at a desk! Shocking, yes we know. Our bodies are actually designed to perform physically-oriented tasks like the early hunter-gatherer societies (cavemen!) who had to hunt for food and build their own shelters. In other words, we are designed to MOVE. Lack of movement in the spine from prolonged sitting deprives the intervertebral disc in your spine of fresh nutrients and fluid and causes facet joint compression (joints adjacent to the vertebrae). This can lead to excessive wear and tear of your joints, which can result in degeneration over time – but this is preventable in most cases! Sitting can also affect the health of your hip, knee and ankle joints due to lack of stimulation to the joints and surrounding structures, which is essential for optimal tissue health .
Simple solutions for those that sit too much:
- Take microbreaks – even with the perfect workstation setup, chair, back support and etc. it is vital to get out of the sitting position regularly (at least every 15-20 minutes) 
- Stretching and massage therapy to keep your tissues healthy
- Self-mobilizations of the neck, mid-back, and lower back (covered in next blog post)
- An alarm, post-it note or phone app [eg. Backache on Google Play Store] to remind you to take a microbreak or stretch/perform a self-mobilization technique 
- Communicate with a co-worker face to face instead of using e-mail or phone
- Use a standing desk (microbreaks still required)
- Walk/bike to work instead of driving
To learn more about microbreaking and the harmful effects of sitting – feel free to read Paul Ingraham’s brilliant article: https://www.painscience.com/articles/microbreaking.php
Author: Clarence Lau, BSc (Hons), MPhtySt
Toronto Registered Physiotherapist | Acupuncture Provider
1. 1996. Nachemson and Elfstrom. Relationship between body posture and intradiscal pressure by intravital recordings
3. 2016. Ingraham, Paul. <https://www.painscience.com/articles/microbreaking.php>