As we deal with the surreal circumstances due to the pandemic, we’re probably sitting WAY more than we’d like. This is especially true for those accustomed to vigorous physical activity.

Whether it’s Zoom conferencing, marathon phone calls with the kinfolk, or binge watching your favorite Netflix series eating a cheese-choc-dog (don’t ask), you’re finding yourself perched on your butt for prolonged periods. There’s probably a little voice in the back of your head whispering: “not good, not good”! You should listen to that voice!

Recent studies indicate increased sitting correlates with a heightened risk of type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Moreover, if you’re sitting more, it probably means that you’re exercising less, and soon having to deal with the unwanted effects of obesity.

So, if you’re not willing to bear the expense for one of those fancy space age ergonomic chairs that looks like one of your precocious child’s science projects, or invest in a stand up desk rack that seems better suited to elevate your car for a do-it-yourself oil change, here are some helpful tips.

According to recent findings released by the World Journal of Orthopedics, 62% of participants, ages 20-35 years, equally divided by gender, experienced temporary discomfort after just 15 minutes in a fully flexed spine sitting posture. Why would young subjects with, presumably, less degenerative ailments than older individuals, experience such low thresholds of discomfort in this position?

We know from disc loading measurements of the spine there is a higher compressive load in the lumbar spine with upright sitting rather than standing. This load appears to be exacerbated in a slumped posture or cross-legged. The discs are those little structures that separate the individual vertebrae and function as shock absorbers, allowing the crucial flexibility in our spines so we’re not walking like Frankenstein’s monster. The problem, as we age, and fairly early in that process, the discs which were once spongy and well hydrated due to healthy blood supply, become dry and brittle as the natural circulatory channels dry up. At this point, the only way the disc can get oxygenated blood is through “imbibition”, i.e. through “soaking it up” through movement, through the endplate of the vertebrae, from the blood rich marrow within the vertebral bone. This is an effect similar to squeezing a sponge. Movement is the only way this can happen for the disc. Prolonged sitting is like squeezing the sponge, eventually taking its toll on the disc, compressing it, drying it out and eventually causing you to feel uncomfortable.

Muscular support or lack thereof surrounding the spine is an additional mechanism of pain. The lumbar spine has a natural “C” shaped curve called the lordosis, which develops as a secondary curve in the spine in early childhood as one makes the transitioned from crawling to standing to walking. This becomes integral to the development into adulthood, allowing us to adapt to an upright posture. It enables the compressive forces of weight bearing posture to dissipate somewhat, and more evenly distributed throughout the lumbar spine, bearing the majority of the load.

Sitting upright, however, flattens the curve, thus abnormally shifting and increasing the compressive forces to the discs, but also generating more muscular activity to support this “abnormal” posture. Increased muscular activity generates fatigue and ultimately discomfort.

So, how do we surmount the challenges of bad posture that is thrust upon us for an unknown period of time? The most obvious would be to limit sitting as much as reasonable, by getting up and moving at regular intervals, especially with desk work. If when watching television you have a more comfortable chair, like a recliner, where you can eliminate a lot of the undesirable compressive forces. If not, lie down on the floor. If soft carpeted, prop your head on a pillow, and rest your legs on an ottoman or cushion.

If you must sit interminably at the computer, a simple method mitigating biomechanical stress to the lower back has been found in the combination of ischial (the knobby bones in your posterior) and lumbar support. The simplest way to achieve this is by tilting the back of your seat down, as in passive pelvic tilt, (what you probably already have in your auto seat), and placing a cushion in that space behind the small of your back. A rolled up
towel serves the purpose admirably. If your seat bottom doesn’t recline, try a simple wedge shaped cushion with the thick edge at the front edge of your seat. Try making this adjustment in your car while on a long drive, and you can almost feel your back breathe with relief!

With a little knowledge and preparation we should all be able to survive the lockdown without having to stand in line at the Chiropractor’s office or hoard Advil.

Note: Cheese-choc-dog: a hot dog infused with cheese wiz and smothered with cocomarsh. A rumored  legendary favorite of professional couch potatoes.