Chairs may be Changing the Shape of Your Back
To keep you upright while sitting, your body relies on an engaged core. Your abdominal muscles work with your back muscles to keep you centered and balanced, to keep your arms working and your head on straight. In short, sitting can be a low impact activity. But man, keeping your muscles constantly engaged means you don’t relax, and isn’t relaxation the reason chairs were invented in the first place? The problem is that few of the chairs, seats, couches, and stools that exist today support the body’s natural (and optimum) seated posture. Modern sitting, so to speak, has transformed the natural shape of our back, and we’re worse off for it.
Most Americans suffer from back pain. It affects our day-to-day life, our sleep and of course our happiness. But what if our pain, and degenerative effects of aging on our spine, could be virtually eliminated—or completely prevented?
The “S” is for “(Stop) Slouching”
It may be that the cause of back pain for many of us is the shape of our spine, or rather, the shape we have trained our spines to become. Most Americans today have an “S” shaped spine. There’s a curve at the neck/shoulders, then an opposite curve at the lower back/buttocks. Naturally, though, the spine should be a “J” shape so that the lower back is the only curve. You’ll find this in kids and, perhaps most tellingly, in traditional cultures.
Esther Gokhale is a Princeton-trained biochemist who, after suffering two herniated discs in two years, set out to find a way to fix her back. Drawing on research and her own observations of traditional cultures all over the world, she developed a method to successfully fix her spine and the spines of many other suffering Americans.
In her travels, she found that older people didn’t have much degeneration or pain in their backs and that women, even after spending full days bent over their work, didn’t have back pain. Gokhale observed that their posture is different because their spines don’t have the extra curve that most of ours do and it’s because of the differences in posture. There’s been little formal research studying spine shapes and associated pain, but the anecdotal evidence is compelling.
Not only that, but there’s been quite a bit of research done on the deleterious effects of sitting the way we do—shoulders forward, spine in the shape of an S—and it’s pretty clear that painful or not: the way we sit is hazardous to our health.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Sitting in chairs with shoulders forward, core relaxed, spine compressed, results in aches and pains that aren’t just limited to the back. And, as the years wear on, minor pains turn into major issues. Extended sitting is linked to a higher likelihood of osteoporosis, and serious conditions like varicose veins, deep vein thrombosis, even cancer, heart disease, and death. Those who spent more than four hours a day sitting increased their risk of death from any cause by 50% and their risk of cardiovascular disease-related events by 125%.
Most people spend their workdays confined to chairs, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for a life of pain and disease. Move as much as you can and when you can’t, practice sitting better [link to the right way to sit]. Doing so will strengthen and tone your core, and maybe even help the workday pass faster. It’s good exercise to practice squeezing your shoulder blades together and breathing into your abdomen When you do feel pain, don’t hesitate to seek treatment from a chiropractor.