Office workers tend to suffer from neck and back pain due to sitting for long hours without breaks.
The most ergonomic chair and the best sitting posture will not keep an office worker pain-free from prolonged sitting unless he also takes frequent breaks.
Prolonged sitting is not the restful activity that most people assume it to be.
Unlike walking, where the muscles in the body contract and relax, when a person sits, the muscles in the neck, shoulder, back and legs are constantly contracted to keeo the body upright and still.
The result is that blood circulation in the body slows down and less nutrients reach the tissues so more cellular waste builds up in them. This contributes to fatigue and discomfort.
Over time, this causes strain and pain in the muscles and joints.
It is not known how common this problem is here, but overseas studies show that office workers are more likely to have neck and back pain compared to non-office workers.
Sitting puts a constant pressure on intervertebral discs, which act as cushions between the vertebrae of the spine, unlike walking which exerts a dynamic pressure on the intervertebral discs.
Hence, sitting acellerates the wear and tear of the discs. In some people, the contents of the disc can move out and press on a nerve, causing pain, numbness or a tingling sensation. This condition is called a prolapsed disc.
It is important for those who sit for a long time to break the stress cycle by “unseating” themselves every 30 to 45 minutes to get their blood circulation going again, said Dr Kevin Yip, an orthopaedic surgeon at Gleneagles Medical Centre.
This break need not take more than two to three minutes. “You can do some stretches on the chair or walk to grab a cup of water”.
It also lowers good cholesterol, increases triglycerides – a fat that hardens arteries, raising the risk of a heart attack and produces an inflammatory agent in the blood called the C-reactive protein that is also bad for the heart.
And this is regardless of whether the person exercises regularly or has a healthy diet.
The study found that those who took the most movement breaks had smaller waists and a lower risk of having a heart attack.
Frequent breaks aside, it is still wise for a person sitting at his desk to adopt a good sitting posture ad to buy a chair which supports such a posture.
Unlike sleeping or walking, during sitting, the spine loses its natural S-curve.
Sitting rotates the pelvis such that the lower back, or lumbar spine, becomes flatenned instead of curving inwards towards the body.
This creates extra pressure on the spine and pulls at the muscles and ligaments supporting the spinal column. The result? Lower back pain.
To regain the S-curve of the spine, a person needs to tilt his pelvis slightly. Otherwise, a chair with a lumbar support can also support this posture.