The harmful effects of sitting

Current lifestyles have us sitting for the majority of our days. You sit at your desk all day at work, you sit in the car on the way home, and then sit and watch television at home. Sound familiar? Ironically, you are probably sitting while reading this blog right now. There is also a good chance you are sitting slouched forward with poor posture. For most of us, however, we find time to be active by going to the gym or keeping up with our kids.  Recent studies have shown that sitting for 6-8 hours can lead to increased risks for health issues, even if you are active outside of those long hours of sitting. According to a recent study, too much sitting can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and Type II Diabetes. This does not mean your work out is going to waste, because your risk is significantly decreased compared to those who are sitting for the majority of the day. It does mean you need to get up more often throughout the day, however. Sitting for long periods of time can also lead to issues such as back pain, neck pain, and headaches. There are plenty of patients that come into the clinic everyday with an injury that was either caused or exacerbated by too much sitting with poor posture.


Why is Sitting Bad for You?

Usually when you have an injury, it is result of doing something to your body. In this case, the injury is a result of doing nothing. Your body is made for movement. Sitting is okay when you need to rest, recover, or unwind after a stressful day. Too much sitting can make your body go crazy, as it sits and waits for you to get up and move. Standing up and moving around increases blood flow, loosens up tight muscles, and improves breathing. Sitting does the opposite. Your blood flow becomes sluggish, your muscles become stiff and tight, and your breathing becomes less efficient since slouched posture creates less space for your lungs to expand. Overtime, these effects can add up.

Poor posture while sitting creates an even greater monster. When you slouch, you flatten your back and decrease the normal curves of your spine. As a result your head protrudes forward and your shoulders are rounded. This posture places increased stress on the bones, discs, and ligaments in your back. The muscles along your spine that attach to your neck and shoulder blades become longer and weaker, causing you to use different muscles to compensate. Stress can make these muscles work even harder. The muscles at the front of your chest become short and tight, only pushing your further into a slouched posture. You may experience headaches, neck or shoulder pain as a results as the muscles surrounding these joints become stiff and overworked. Sitting also lengthened and shortened leg muscles. The muscles at the front of your hip can become tight and short from being bent at the hip while sitting. Your hamstrings, the muscles behind the thigh, also become shortened since your knees are bent while sitting. Your butt muscles, or gluteus maximus become lengthened and weak from too much sitting as well. Similar to your upper body, this results in other muscles compensating and increased stress on your low back. These muscle imbalances also impact your standing posture and prevent your body from being as upright as you should be.

What Can I Do?

Fortunately, prolonged sitting has an easy solution. Get up! While sitting at work or at home, aim to stand up and walk around every 30 minutes to keep the blood and oxygen flowing.

  • Set an alarm every 30-60 min to remind yourself to stand up and walk around
  • Walk around and stand while talking on the phone
  • Walk to a co-workers office instead of emailing them
  • Be active during your lunch break and try to walk around
  • Stretch every hour or so to prevent tight muscles. You can turn your head side to side, roll your shoulder backwards, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and stretch out your hips, forearms, and legs
  • Stand or get up during commercial breaks while watching television
  • Become a physical therapist, we are always on the move! You will sleep great at night, trust me.


Good posture can also ward off the harmful effects of sitting too long. Your sitting posture should be described as this:

  • Your ears should be directly over your shoulders
  • Shoulders should be down and back (not up towards your ears)
  • Feet should be placed on the floor with your hips and knees at a 90 degree angle
  • Your computer monitor should be directly in front of you at eye level
  • Avoiding reaching for the keyboard or raising your shoulders to type. Your elbows should be at an angle slightly greater than 90 degrees when typing at a keyboard


How can Physical Therapy Help?

Your therapist can help treat your neck pain, your back pain, or any other injury from sitting too long. They can provide hands on treatment to decrease any knots that may have formed from tight muscles, and instruct you on specific stretches you can perform at your desk or at home. Your therapist can also show you how to maintain good sitting and standing posture and instruct you on specific exercises to maintain good posture. Physical therapists can provide you with modifications to your work station to decrease your pain and prevent further issues. The exercises and stretches your therapist provides will be unique to your work or home set up so you can easily perform them daily.

Since you are finished reading this blog, now is a great time to get up and walk around. Your body will thank you in the long run!  For more information on physical therapy visit


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