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Sitting Athletes: Core Science

We're not supposed to sit around all day. So when we do, here's what happens. Core chiropractor, Dr. Alexander Jimenez investigates this way of life for so many.

Sitting for extended periods during the day may adversely affect your performance in your chosen sport and can be quite frequently a predisposing factor in injury. The majority of us are not professional athletes and invest huge amounts of daily sitting hunched over a computer, at a car or slumped on the couch.

In most individuals, prolonged sitting will cause all or a few of the following:
  •  tight hip flexor, hamstring and calf muscles
  •  tightness through the external hip rotator muscles, which can lead to restricted movement at the hip joint
  •  reduced extension through the lower back, causing stiffness
  •  stiffness in the mid (thoracic) spine
  •  tight and hunched shoulders with weak lower shoulder muscles
  •  tight and weak muscles at the back of the shoulder
  •  ‘poked chin’ posture and muscle imbalances in the neck and upper shoulders
The better the position one can maintain during the day, the less likely it is that the aforementioned areas will become debatable. Conversely, the older the athlete and the more time spent sitting down over time, the further ingrained these issues will be.

Let's consider Jack, a 30-year old delivery guy who is attempting to break a three-hour marathon time. His training is being increasingly affected by the low back and rear thigh distress he feels whenever he tries to run more than 15km. Jack sits the majority of the day in rather bad posture, slouched over with his knees out to the side. All of which has generated some muscle imbalances, weaknesses and restrictions on his range of hip motion through recent years.

Jack's daily training regimen and flexibility program have to be corrected to combat the hours that he spends sitting at the truck. Now meet Denise, a 40-year-old lawyer and triathlete who spends hours on end, day and night, in front of a computer, and then more hours sitting on a bike -- mostly in the hunched 'aero' position. Denise has an increased curvature of the mid-spine plus also a 'poked chin'. She also has several muscular imbalances and weaknesses, and flexibility limits in her shoulders and mid-spine. These can endanger Denise's efficiency in her swimming stroke, and worse still make her a traditional candidate for a shoulder impingement/tendinitis injury -- the last thing she would want leading up into a qualifying race.

Exactly like Jack, Denise should undertake daily flexibility exercises and regular standing to combat the consequences of spending so much time in a seated position. She'll also need a workout program to train postural and shoulder equilibrium muscle groups.

Intense sitting has also been associated with acute muscle breeds in lively sports, particularly hamstring strains. The lower spine stiffness related to sitting contributes to transformed neural input into the back thigh, the theory goes. This may manifest as increased muscle tone of their hamstrings, which will increase the danger of strain.

Sit Up & Pay Attention

The solution begins with education. You must first learn how to set your body into good posture during the day; the way to hold your spine in a correct position. Lots of people try to sit up tall by just leaning back in the base of the backbone without altering their mid-spine or shoulder posture. What you should do is finding a neutral lower spine position and correcting your mid- to upper-back position, so that you may effectively pull your shoulder blades down your back working with the reduce shoulder muscles, combatting the propensity to hunch forward.

"Many people try to sit up tall by just leaning back from the base of the spine without altering their mid-spine or shoulder position"

But it's extremely hard to hold good posture if your workstation is badly set up; for example with the computer keyboard too high or sat at an old seat with a sloping back-rest. A workplace evaluation should help by changing the height and positioning of office equipment or introducing corrective devices to help with great sitting.

Jack may require a lumbar roll to get his low back from flexion and a block beside the vehicle's door to stop his knee and cool out of falling outwards to the side all of the time. Denise might need to elevate the height of her monitor to eye level, lower the keyboard height so that her hands are at elbow level, and utilize a postural brace for her shoulder girdle and upper back while she is relearning to sit correctly. Seating wedges are very useful where chairs are too low (which forces you to sit with your knees higher than your hips and sets your lower back to flexion). The wedge is also very handy to fix bucket seats in cars.

The information contained in this publication is believed to be correct at the time of going to press. Whilst care has been taken to ensure that the information is accurate, the publisher can accept no responsibility for the consequences of actions based on the advice contained herein.

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The information herein is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, licensed physician, and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make your own health care decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified health care professional. Our information scope is limited to chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, sensitive health issues, functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions. We provide and present clinical collaboration with specialists from a wide array of disciplines. Each specialist is governed by their professional scope of practice and their jurisdiction of licensure. We use functional health & wellness protocols to treat and support care for the injuries or disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Our videos, posts, topics, subjects, and insights cover clinical matters, issues, and topics that relate to and support, directly or indirectly, our clinical scope of practice.* Our office has made a reasonable attempt to provide supportive citations and has identified the relevant research study or studies supporting our posts. We provide copies of supporting research studies available to regulatory boards and the public upon request. We understand that we cover matters that require an additional explanation of how it may assist in a particular care plan or treatment protocol; therefore, to further discuss the subject matter above, please feel free to contact us. Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, ATN* email: phone: 915-850-0900 Licensed in: Texas & New Mexico*