Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Sitting Duck for Low Back Pain

Low back pain is a common health problem in all industrialized countries. More than one-quarter of the working population in the U.S. is affected by low back pain each year.

With the rapid development of modern technology, sitting has now become the most common posture in today’s workplace. It is common for many people to sit at their computer for 8-10 hour stretches, rarely getting up to stretch or relieve pressure on their spine. One would think that low back pain would be reserved for those employees doing physical work involving lots of lifting, bending, and stooping. So if you don't do physical work all day, why does your back hurt?

Often two major muscle groups, the hamstrings and hip rotators, end up being in a shortened position and under constant stress when sitting. This coupled with long bouts of inactivity, non-ergonomic desk arrangements and poor posture can commonly cause low back pain.

Through regular stretching of these two areas, it is possible to reduce tension in the low back and potentially prevent further injury and more severe pain. Doing the stretches can also make a difference in your ability to get longer lasting results from treatments such as massage, fitness training and chiropractic care. It is important that you don't let fear of pain keep you from trying gentle stretching and light activity.

The first muscles to stretch are your hamstrings, as sitting all day puts them in their shortest position. Stand up or sit in a chair and put your legs straight out on a chair. Slowly try to touch your toes. Just go slow and only as far as you can reasonably go without pain. Hold the stretch for at least thirty seconds. Repeat on each side twice.

The second muscles to stretch are your hip rotators. Loosening the muscles here takes a lot of strain off the sacrum and gluteal region, often helping sciatic problems. This stretch can be done while lying in bed or on the floor. Keep one leg straight while you pull your other leg up to your chest. You should feel a pull. You can further stretch this area by pulling your knee across your body to get better results. Again, hold the stretch for at least thirty seconds. Repeat twice on each side.

Chances are, you're not going to stop working on your computer any time soon. Taking a few minutes each day to do some stretching will make a world of difference. Getting massages and stretching regularly, in conjunction with working to correct poor postural habits can dramatically reduce tension and pain in the body!

Written by Allyson Madera
Licensed Massage Practitioner, Seattle Athletic Club Northgate
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European Spine Journal. 2007 February; 16(2): 283–298. Carragee EJ (2005). Persistent low back pain. New England Journal of Medicine, 352(18): 1891–1898.

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