Many people who suffer from a spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis complain of pain after sitting for a prolonged period of time. The pain can follow sitting in a comfy recliner, an ergonomic work chair, a firm kitchen chair, or even after sleeping (especially when on your side with your knees tucked toward your chest). To help keep yourself more comfortable you should understand how sitting may lead to unnecessary problems.
The occurrence of pain following prolonged sitting is linked to a battle that is going on with certain muscle groups. In general, you have muscle groups along the front of your body that are playing a game of tug of war with the opposing muscle groups along the backside of your body. The “rope” caught in the middle is your spine.
It is important to keep an even balance of flexibility between these two opposing areas. If one group becomes overactive and tight, it can lead to the opposing group adaptively lengthening which creates a sort of weakness. These changes result in an imbalance which puts unwanted stress on some very sensitive areas such as your already compromised spine.
THINK ABOUT POSTURE
Now, let’s think about two important questions. First, what does your posture look like when you are seated? Second, how often you stay seated throughout the day?
A majority of people will sit in a slouched position. The knees will be bent and the shoulders will be rounded forward (pay attention to how you look after 15 minutes of typing or searching the internet. It is a good bet that your body will fall into this position).
A typical day for most people goes something like this – sitting down when eating, watching TV, driving, working at the office or learning in the classroom, watching more TV, and working or playing on the computer. It is safe to say we sit for MUCH longer periods throughout the day as compared to standing or walking. In today’s technology-driven world we spend more time seated than ever before!
WHATS HAPPENING WHILE YOU SIT
All those hours spent sitting add up, and the muscles in the front of your hips become tight. Once tight, these muscles will create an abnormal pull on the pelvis when you stand. Ideally, these muscles function at an appropriate length to help provide support and movement to the pelvis when you are on your feet.
Sitting in soft chairs or slumping forward also lengthens the muscles that run along your spine. Muscles that are continuously lengthened will reflexively fight back by going into spasm. That’s why your back muscles may feel tight and achy so frequently – they feel tight because they are trying to get back to their normal length rather than stay lengthened due to poor posture.
Meanwhile, the muscles deep in your hips also become tight when you sit without the feet flat on the floor. This causes your legs to adaptively rotate outward. On top of that, the muscles along the backside of the hip (the powerful glute muscles) become lazy in a sense – they don’t have to work to support your body in the sitting position because the chair is doing the work for you. Then when you stand, the tight deep hip muscles further influence poor use of the glutes.
Problems are starting to mount, but that’s not all…
The muscles in the front of your chest become tight when you are slouched over while reading or typing at your computer. This will influence two more problems: 1) the muscles in your upper back adaptively lengthen and become weak, and 2) the shoulders round forward from the pull of the chest muscles.
The end result is a spine with exaggerated curves – not the shape the spine wants to be in to work and absorb stress successfully!
WHICH SIDE WINS THE BATTLE?
As you can see, the battle is being won by the muscles in the front of the body. And like it or not you are providing the ammunition by sitting for prolonged amounts throughout the day, especially if you give in to poor posture.
This combination creates the perfect storm for more stress on the spine!
When you finally get up on your feet the muscles that provide support to the spine and other joints are kind of confused. Some are tight, some are lengthened. Some are over-active, and some will activate inappropriately – what you may describe as being weak. Standing or changing position may provide an initial sensation of relief. But eventually these confused muscles will not be able to support your spine and joints the way they were intended. The end result is a lack of support and control of stress in the joints.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
When it comes to decreasing the amount of pain associated with having a spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis your best bet is to strategically reduce the actions that increase the symptoms and improve the flexibility and strength of the areas affected by these actions.
Do not just throw in some random spondylolisthesis exercises you think might work. You are only throwing fuel on your painful fire if you do not perform these exercises correctly or in proper order. Instead, add safe and effective stretching techniques to your workout that focus on the muscle groups previously described. Combining stretching and less prolonged sitting will have you feeling much better!