• Lisa Barday

Can I Hurt Myself Just Sitting?

You have been sitting in your desk chair working on your computer for long stretches of time with little movement and you do this day after day. Then, very slowly, you start to feel a little pain in your shoulder, your neck or maybe your back. You ignore it and keep going along the same path. Then, that little pain starts to become worse and begins to impact your ability to work, your state of mind and maybe even your sleep. Does this sound familiar? It’s possible you may now have an MSD or Musculoskeletal Disorder which is an injury to your muscles or skeletal system that occurs slowly over time as opposed to an acute injury which occurs abruptly and typically has an easily identified source such as a twisted ankle. But how did this happen, you were just sitting in a chair. How could you possibly hurt yourself by simply sitting?

A medical professional can help you find the root cause of your pain, but it might be because you have over fatigued one or more slow twitch muscle fibers. Our bodies basically have two types of muscle fibers, slow twitch and fast twitch and they serve different functions. Fast twitch muscle fibers provide big and powerful forces to support such activities such as running a sprint or performing fast paced exercises. While they offer lots of power, they fatigue quickly. Slow twitch muscle fibers support slower, sustained activities such as walking, marathon running or supporting your posture during a task and they are designed for longer use and fatigue less easily. So, when we look at sitting in a chair and typing on a computer for long periods of time, it’s the slow twitch muscles that are doing that heavy lifting.

Since slow twitch muscles are resistant to fatigue, they will tire at a slower pace. This explains why that MSD you are experiencing took a while to show up and cause pain. Lack of movement or sustained incorrect posture simply wore out your slow twitch muscle fibers and they are letting you know they had enough. If you continue to ignore this pain and try to push through it, you will likely increase the damage to these slow twitch muscles that will ultimately require medical attention and could result in lost time from work and even other activities you enjoy.

How can you avoid finding yourself in this situation? First, be sure you are maintaining a proper neutral ergonomic posture with your furniture and technology set-up with feet flat on the floor and thighs parallel to the floor, your back engaged with the lumbar support of your chair, arms loose at your sides with elbows at 90 degrees while typing and your monitor set so the top line of text is level with your eyes. Next, find ways to incorporate movement into your day by standing, walking around your office, and even leaning back in your chair periodically while working. Most importantly, be aware of the signals your body is sending you. If you feel pain, address it immediately by evaluating how you are sitting and your movement habits. If you pain is escalating and you can’t determine the source, seek the advice of a medical professional, don’t wait until the pain impacts you negatively.

Simply being aware of your posture and how you feel can go a long way to preventing these types of injuries. If you need help, a workstation evaluation by a certified professional like Be Well Ergo, can identify problems before they escalate or can help you adjust furniture, technology or job tasks to improve your posture if you are already experiencing symptoms of an MSD. This is a preventable injury, don’t let it sneak up on you.

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