Are you in a sit-down job?

Screenshot of my beloved Sunday Times frontpage

Screenshot of my beloved Sunday Times frontpage

Most days, I do my best to catch up on the news, and on my days off, I especially love going through The Times and the Guardian websites. I’ve always called my subscription to the Sunday Times my one little vice in life. Even though I only get to read it on a Monday (which is my Sunday), I love the indulgence of making myself a cup of delicious loose-leaf tea with my beloved Attic teamaker and sitting down to a good nose through the various sections of the paper. I remember the days when I used to have to rush to the newsagents during my break to snaffle nearly the last copy of the Sunday Times, carry home my hefty prize under my arm after finishing too late yet again on Sunday evening, then laying it out on my dining table, ready to be perused the next morning. Now in our digital age, I no longer have to rush out to the newsagents as I can download at my leisure to my thoroughly indispensable Google tablet. I still occasionally finish work far too late on a Sunday evening however.

So in my perusal through the papers today, I came across an article that felt like an accusatory finger was sternly being pointed in my direction. The headline that caught my eye was a rather ominous sounding “What a sedentary life is doing to your health“.

The contents of the article soundly resonated with me, as it’s an issue that I see in just about 9 out of 10 of my clients. Nearly everyone cites “shoulder pain” or “tension in my neck and shoulders” or “lower back pain” as the reason for seeking out massage therapy. During the treatment consultation, invariably I will ask a client questions about their day-to-day activities, and whether they are in a primarily desk-bound, sit-for-hours-on-end sort of job. In nearly every case, the response is a heavy, resigned nod of the head.

All of us have heard it exhorted to us repeatedly how it’s so essential to be physically active, to take regular exercise, to start going to the gym, to go to yoga and pilates classes, etc etc. I often hear my clients say how difficult it is for them to either start or maintain a regular exercise regime. Time or money pressures, or simply the constraints of the job (for example, consultants who have to travel frequently for work) mean that good intentions never seem to translate to concrete action.

Dreamstime.comHowever, my firm belief is that it isn’t necessary to beat yourself with the endless guilt cycle of drumming up the desire to “start going to the gym” and subsequently feeling like a thorough criminal for letting yet another day pass by without so much as being within eyesight of a rowing machine. Being physically active and avoiding the negative consequences of a sedentary life is about achieving a much simpler goal – to keep your body in continual movement and avoid sustained periods of sitting still. The Times article effectively says that, even if you’re a regular gym goer, once you tot up all the hours you spend sitting down in a day/week, you “could be training for a triathlon and simultaneously qualify as a couch potato”.

That’s a terribly sobering thought, isn’t it? The article goes on to list all of the negative effects of prolonged sitting, including increasing your propensity to develop Type 2 diabetes, reduced ability to metabolise fats and sugars efficiently, and even cancer. Matt Todman, a physiotherapist with Six Physio, is quoted as saying prolonged sitting can “negate the benefits of lengthy warm-ups or that weekly yoga class you attend to improve your posture“.

A lot of the lower back issues and shoulder problems I see in my sessions can be frequently attributed to prolonged sitting. It isn’t obvious until someone points it out to you, but in a seated position, your hamstring muscles in the back of your upper thighs are actually maintained in a shortened (or contracted) position. Put it this way – it’s equivalent to holding the lower half of your leg up at 90° in a standing position for the same number of hours. After a certain period of time, your body begins to believe that that’s the normal length of your hamstrings. So what happens when you then stand up? Your body does its level best to maintain the same shortened hamstring muscle length, and it’s your hips and lower back that end up getting pulled on.

It’s not all doom and gloom however. There are some really great tips included in the Times article above on how to reduce your sitting time. Did you know that even the NHS has an advice pamphlet on how to reduce your sitting time? And you probably already know (or you wouldn’t be reading this article, you clever clogs, you) that massage bodywork is an excellent way to help retrain your body to lengthen any shortened muscles implicated in muscular pain and tension.

So if you’re doing your best to stop sitting for hours on end, and your body is crying out for some no-nonsense, straightforward help with alleviating your lower back pain, or your aching neck or shoulders, ‎gimme a call and together we’ll help you and your amazing body find your way back to your flow!