Finding relief from the “sitting disease”

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Chiropractors are helping people find relief from the “sitting disease”

Sometimes, harmless things in excess can be deadly. Sitting down, for instance. It appears so ordinary, so every day, to sit down. But, as James Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic once said, “Sitting is the new smoking.”

The negative impact of extended sitting is receiving a lot of attention because of the shift in work styles in contemporary living.

Tracing lifestyle changes over the years, it is possible to zoom in on why this “sitting disease” which is considered today’s slow and silent killer of American workers, is happening. Over the past 50 years or so in the U.S., with the advent of the age of technology, in particular, less and less people are working in agriculture and manufacturing. This has led to a drastic reduction in occupation-related physical activity. For instance, in the early 1960’s almost 50% of private industry jobs in the U.S. included some level of physical activity. Today, less than 20% of the jobs require this level of activity. According to research, the remaining 80% of jobs are sedentary or require only light activity.

With the number of office workers with chiropractic complaints skyrocketing in recent times, the number of adults seeking chiropractic help for their pain, has increased significantly. According to a recent Gallup study, over half of adults in the U.S. have experience seeing a professional  chiropractor.  What is concerning, however, is the age of these chiropractic patients. Office workers barely out of their teens are being diagnosed with chronic pain, loss of function and mobility issues brought on by years of desk and computer work. And these patients keep returning to chiropractors again and again because they find the relief they seek.

Meanwhile, recent research by the Pew Research Center in Washington DC, found there has been a doubling of jobs in service sectors and other knowledge-intensive employment. Pew reports that physical skills that were essential for many jobs over three decades ago, have faded in importance, and have been replaced by higher-level social and analytical skills.

Another recent survey found that 86% of American workers are engaged in livelihoods that require them to sit all day. The study also found that 70% of them hate having to sit all day, but they do it anyway. American poet Ogden Nash observes the reason for this, as, “People who work sitting down get paid more than people who work standing up.”  Furthermore, when the time spent on watching TV, reading, surfing Internet or playing online games is added, these workers spend about 13 hours in a sitting position every day.

Meanwhile, a recent FlexJobs survey of 3,100 professionals found that only 7% stated they were most productive when working in the office. Over 50% said they were able to achieve more when working from home, while another 8% said they felt more productive at coffee shops, libraries, or co-working spaces. With medical research finding that extended sitting could greatly increase the risk of cancer, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and even death, the scientific community is deeply concerned about an overly sedentary lifestyle leading to a largely sick population.

Apart from serious health afflictions, people can also suffer from neck, low back, shoulder and hip pain, by sitting down for lengthy stretches of times on a regular basis.

Medical research also shows that sitting ramrod straight in your chair is as bad as sitting doubled up over your keyboard, and that there are five main areas of the body – the upper traps, neck, lower back, hips and hamstrings – that get constricted when a person sits down all day. As medical science shows, staring at the computer screen for hours leads to strained neck and shoulders muscles and tightened chest muscles. When this happens for months and years, it leads to physical changes like the head remaining in a forward position, a hunched spine, rounded shoulders, and shoulder blades sticking out. People tend to develop breathing problems too, when they hunch over the computer the whole day.

Researchers at Cornell University Department of Ergonomics found that up to 90% more pressure is applied to your lower back when you sit versus when you stand. As the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases found, back pain is one of the most common health problems of Americans, with 1 out of 4 people experiencing back pain 1 day out of every 3 months. Also, a recent study conducted by the World Health Organization’s Global Burden of Diseases, found that lower back pain caused by a person’s job is a growing problem. Lower back pain was the leading cause of absenteeism from work in 2010.

Research into the problems of a sedentary lifestyle finds that lost physical activity of a pre-technological era, most likely will never be restored. But employers could help increase physical activity for employees with subsidized gym memberships or with incentives to use public transport which requires more physical activity than driving. Some companies offer standing workstations or treadmill-style desks to prevent excessive sitting. They are also encouraging employees to meet and speak rather than use e-mail.

As former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division and author of the “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals,” Dr. Joan Vernikos said, “”We weren’t designed to sit. The body is a perpetual motion machine.”

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