A few years ago, a number of articles began circling the web claiming that “sitting is the smoking of our generation.” Reasons for this being: sitting forces fat-burning processes to drastically decline and is inherently a distinct lack of physical activity—two factors often tied to major illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Too much sitting also creates some serious annoyances in day-to-day life.
Sitting for long periods of time (for example, a full work day at a desk) can cause back pain, sleeplessness and poor focus, even if you exercise regularly. This chronic discomfort in the back spreads quickly to its neighbors—neck, shoulders, hips, ankles—and before you know it, the chiropractor is your new best friend.
All this stress over sitting led to an uptick in desk workers using standing desks or even treadmill desks, timing sitting and standing to the beeping alert of our smartphones and smartwatches. For a lot of us, myself included, that standing desk felt like the solution to the problem. That and workplace exercise.
While we like to think that opposites ultimately cure—I shouldn’t sit? I’ll stand!—the reality is standing for long periods of time brings with it a lot of its own problems, many of them exactly the same as those related to sitting: back pain, sleeplessness and poor focus. These aches and pains only get worse when you take into account the very abrupt transition you’re making from sitting all day to something entirely different. That’s a serious shakeup!
What we really need is variety—sitting punctuated with active breaks of regular movement. Opt for a walking meeting around the office; take your conference calls while stretching or walking at a nearby park; give yourself a break! This 2008 study showed great benefits to this type of varied movement.
So, with that in mind, here are five signs you’re suffering from desk-caused back pain:
1) The discomfort you feel is in your lower back. The very nature of sitting at a desk for long periods of time means that you will most likely be experiencing pain in your lower back and hip area, seconded by tension in the back of the neck. Look to varied movement to help prevent this, make sure your chair has proper lumbar support and get regular massage therapy if you’re able.
2) Your chair-to-desk height proportions are off. Ensure that your office set-up is ergonomic—meaning, your ideal work environment. Decide on your desired desk height and find a chair to match. You should be able to extend your forearms to your keyboard at a straight, 90-degree angle. Set your chair in a similar way, making sure that your thighs are relaxed and level, not tipping down or up.
3) Your day is mostly spent sitting in one, sedentary position. This is just the nature of the beast. If your work or leisure involves sitting in a rigid, steady position for hours at a time, you’re in trouble. Try sitting on an exercise ball to naturally adjust the way you sit and punctuate your sitting hours with many breaks of walking, stretching or taking part in some other activity.
4) Your computer monitor or workstation is too far below or above eye level. If your computer monitor is too high (likely due to a high desk) or too low (if your laptop is on your lap), move it. Your resting line of sight should be easily and naturally toward the center of your screen. Sitting with your monitor too high or too low can cause a lot of strain on the spine and neck.
5) You have difficulty moving when you abruptly change position. We all know what it feels like to quickly adjust after being in one position for a long time. If you experience tension, pain, any sort of stinging or ache, you’ve been there for too long.
Do you experience lower back pain? What are the odds it’s being caused by too much sitting? What strategies have you put in place to deal with it? Let us know in the comments!