The past few months have undoubtedly changed our lifestyles dramatically. With the COVID-19 pandemic still spreading, refusing to slow down, work from home has become the new normal. Many schools have gone online, and the screen time is no longer a forbidden fruit for school-going children. Like it or hate it, life has turned digital and is default now. 

With technology becoming a major saviour, professional commitments are thankfully up and running, but have you ever thought about how getting rivetted to the chairs for many hours at a stretch can leave a long-lasting, negative impact on your health? As a spine surgeon, it bothers me how a poor posture while sitting can cause injuries to the spine and a lifetime of undesirable back and neck pain, which you may have to deal with forever. 

Sitting Is the Slow Poison That Damages Your Spine

You might think that sitting is one of the most comfortable things to do as you are not standing, walking or doing any strenuous physical activity. You are just in a relaxed state, sitting in a chair and working using only your fingers and brain, but hey no! Spending most of your time sitting in front of a screen can make your spine stiff, sore and leave you with long-lasting back and neck pain!

Let me remind you, the longer you sit and work, the greater the chance that your posture will be affected.

  • Slouching can lead to your spinal ligaments getting stretched beyond their limits.
  • Too much sitting can put extra stress on your neck and back muscles and discs.
  • Your muscles will have to strain a lot to pull the spine back to its erect position if you sit slouched for more than 2 hours.

Before you even realize it, your spinal discs will start undergoing wear and tear and neck and back pain will become part and parcel of your everyday life.
Dr G Balamurali

It’s Time to Stand up for Your Spine

Even though sitting and working every day is harmful to your spine, it is something unavoidable, especially in the present scenario. So, how can you save the spine from the pain and strain while working on your computer? Here are a few tips that will come in handy:

An ergonomic chair will be a wise investment that you won’t regret.

Take small breaks, stand up and move around a bit to reduce the strain on your spine.

Keep your wrists straight, shoulders relaxed and head in a neutral position.

Ensure that your feet touch the floor and your ankles rest comfortably in front of the knees. Refrain from crossing your legs and sitting.

Opt for a workstation that your posture will love you for. Ensure that your chair supports your thighs, legs and back properly.

Do you look down at the computer screen? Then it’s time you consider lowering the height of your chair.

Get a chair that can be reclined to 25 to 30 degrees and offers a headrest and lumbar support as well.

Go for a sit-stand desk that helps you to quickly transition from sitting position to standing pose without affecting the desktop setup.

Even if you don’t have the sit-stand desk, consider standing and working for some time. You can use a countertop or a high table to keep your laptop and work by standing near it.

Set a timer on your computer to remind you to stand up and stretch at regular intervals.

Give your worn-out spine a sweet surprise by deciding to exercise regularly! By exercising daily, sweating a bit and raising your heartbeat, your back and neck will start getting healthy and happy. You can also opt for aerobic exercises and yoga poses like downward cow, cat and dog to treat your spine better. Also, try sleeping on your back and use a good pillow that your spine will treasure. So, get set to save your spine and bid good riddance to back and neck pain!

We are all aware of the severe effects of smoking which cause various problems including cancer and death. Similarly, prolonged sitting for more than 8-10 hours a day has severe effects on the whole body and not only the spine. It can cause obesity, increased risk of diabetes mellitus and hypertension, cancer, depression and anxiety, heart attacks and stroke and sometimes can even reduce your life expectancy. Hence sitting is the new smoking, a modern disease we cannot ignore.

So here are some tips to avoid back and neck problems due to prolonged sitting –

Avoid sitting for more than 2 hours.

If you do have to sit this long, then take a 5 to 10-minute break, walk around and stretch yourself.

If you are sitting and working for long, then stand and work for a while.

Sit erect, don't slouch. Your back should be at an angle of 90 degrees to your thigh.

Ensure that your computer, table and keyboard are at a comfortable level. Workplace ergonomics matters a lot.

Take a stroll around during your tea or coffee break.

Get out of your rooms. Don’t stay confined in an air-conditioned space. Get some fresh air, expose yourself to some sunlight.

Don’t get stressed, exercise regularly.

On average, we work seated for around 6-8 hours a day, and we commute for about 2 hours. So, extrapolating this, in our lifespan, we will end up sitting for approximately 32 years! Isn’t that too long?

So, sit smart and whenever you can, avoid being seated for long periods together. Keep yourself fit. And remember always to sit erect. The future is going to be all sitting, so beware and start making your lifestyle changes today.

- Dr. G Balamurali, MBBS, MRCS, MD (UK), FRCS (Neurosurgery), is Head of Spine Surgery, Consultant Spine and Neurosurgeon, Kauvery Advanced Spine Centre, Kauvery Hospital, Chennai