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Sitting straight can cause back pain

And that has led to many conversations about the labor risks of telework.

Sitting straight can cause back pain

Sitting straight can cause back pain photo credit: canva

The need to reduce social interactions as a preventive measure against covid-19 has dramatically enhanced telework. And that has led to many conversations about the labor risks of telework.

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The discussion about the negative consequences, both for visual health and the spine, of spending many hours sitting in front of screens is not new. As of the year 1,700,  in De Morbis Artificum Diatriba,Bernardino Ramazzini reported on the pathologies suffered by the scribes for “constantly sitting”.

Clearly, if inadequate furniture or poor lighting can have negative consequences, changing them is easy. The difficult thing is to maintain the position of seating considered suitable. And it is that staying upright while we are sitting not only seems mission impossible, but can even generate pain.

The straight seat, a myth of social origin

Like all human activity, the headquarters is not without social and cultural conventions. Egyptian pharaohs were the first to use chairs as a ceremonial element while members of their court stood around them. Years later, in Rome, senators sat on marble benches called scamnum,while the only available chair, called curul,was reserved for illustrious characters.

The use of chairs has been democratized since the Renaissance, although in the court of Louis XIV only the king could use seats with armrests, because of his resemblance to thrones. Sitting in a chair still has social significance even today, and for example, when we enter a third-party home we will wait for our host to give us permission – or we ask him – before we sit down.

It is common to hear the recommendation to keep the trunk upright while we are sitting. Among other things, because keeping the trunk upright is already a symbolic element in itself. Whether walking, standing or sitting, an upright trunk gives a more favorable feeling than a hunched trunk.

The author of the first paper published in a scientific journal on the position of seat (Staffel F., in 1884), concerned with maintaining an upright position, stated that “the seats that come closer to the beeping position are saddles”. But he was aware that “a saddle-shaped seat does not satisfy the legitimate need to get enough rest for an extended period of time.” So he designed a new chair model to try to keep the trunk upright without the need for muscle strain. All for giving a good picture.

Despite countless recommendations on standing upright and multiple attempts to design ergonomic chairs (from now on without resounding success), the vast majority of people are unable to maintain that position. Spontaneously, our body tends to take different postures while sitting. As Mandal wrote,“in no other field of human activity is there a similar discrepancy between theory and reality.”

I stand up, sit down again

It is surprising that we have been sold the upright position as the one that protects the health of our column while we are sitting, when there is no scientific evidence to prove it. The mere fact that back-school programs state that it is the “only” healthy posture to sit on should have led to rejection.

What’s more, some people relate back pain to forcing an erect posture. A 2006 work presented at the Congress of the Radiological Society of North America, with the results of MRIs to sitting subjects, was titled: “Does your back hurt? Sitting upright may be to blame.”

For its part, NASA demonstrated a few years ago that, in the absence of gravity and at rest, our body spontaneously takes a position very similar to that we adopted in a mecedora. Seat that, by the way, he regularly used J.F. Kennedy to relieve his back pains.

The results of other studies show advantages of the positions our body spontaneously takes when sitting. For example, reclining the backrest backwards or sitting on the edge of the seat with your knees bent below hip level increases the angle between the trunk and thighs. And that relaxes the muscles and decreases the pressure our intervertebral discs support.

In general, spontaneously adopted postural postures are more comfortable postures than sitting upright and therefore can stay longer. However, they will end up causing problems if we keep them going for a long time while the work activity demands our attention.

The same can be said for our knees, feet, elbows or wrists. If we follow to the letter the instructions of the only recommended posture as healthy and do not move them frequently, after a few hours of work we will notice overload.

What has been shown is that, to minimize work fatigue, frequent changes in posture are more effective than interspersing rest times, even if they are prolonged. Vernoon advanced it in 1924:“Operators who must stand during their work should sit in the most comfortable seat possible, while those who work seated should get up and it would be better, if not inconvenient, to walk.”

In short, it’s not comfortable to lie on a light-wearing chair. Nor has the ultimate ergonomic chair been invented yet. But we can exchange postures, even sitting in the same chair, without the fear of believing that all those who do not involve having their backs straight are wrong postures. The fundamental thing is to get up often.

If we are teleworking, neither our bosses nor our co-workers will be surprised by our personal favorite postures, nor the amount of breaks we take to walk a few steps. Let’s take advantage of it.

The Conversation

Martín Eusebio Barra López, Departamento de Fisioterapia., Universitat Internacional de Catalunya

Este artículo fue publicado originalmente en The Conversation. Lea el original.

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