Earlier this year I took a number of long haul flights for holidays and seminars in South and North America, before returning to Singapore. I used these stretches to make those flights more comfortable, and see them to be just as important for frequent travelers as for office workers. -Dr Shaan
What’s the Problem With Sitting?Sitting for long periods puts your body into an unhealthy curled up (flexed) position. In this posture your shoulders slump, head comes forward and the neck has a lot of strain. This results in shortening of the chest muscles (pectorals) and stretching of the shoulder muscles (upper trapezius) and neck muscles (levator scapulae). Even if you manage to correct this by forcing yourself to sit up straight, your hips are still in a very flexed position, resulting in shortening of the muscles in the front of the legs (quads), shortening of the muscles in the back of the hips (piriformis) and stretching of you lower back muscles (quadratus lumburum). Read why Sitting is the New Smoking, here.
So, is the Problem the Shortened or Stretched Muscles?The problem is the SHORTENED muscles, not the stretched muscles. Muscles work in antagonistic pairs, meaning they work in opposite directions to each other to give a range of movements. Think of it like the pull and push movement for your office door; if it could only go in one direction it would either always be open or always closed (which would make daily activities very difficult!). The same is for the muscles, they must work together for different tasks. However, when there is a change in your posture, such as due to sitting for long periods, the muscles are out of balance, resulting in one being shorter and the other getting stretched in response. The stretched muscle will FEEL more sore, because it is being stretched and over working because your body is instinctively trying to correct your posture back to normal.
Its a bit like a tug of war, the short muscle is the side winning because they have the advantage of a better posture, so the other side gets tired and painful more easily.Therefore the problem is the short muscle, so logically our approach should be to stretch that muscle and restore balance in the body. It is common to do stretching or massage on the muscles that are painful, however this will not SOLVE the problem, just give temporary relief, like Panadol or aspirin.
Wait, but I Feel Pain in My Back and Hamstrings. Aren’t they the Problem?The back muscles are being overly stretched in a sitting position and are reacting to prevent your posture getting worse. The muscles are a defense the body uses to prevent injury to more important structures, like the joints and nerves. This is why you may have muscles spasms for what appears to be ‘no reason’. It is the body responding and attempting to help you, preventing damage happening to more vital parts.
This is also why going for massage of the low back is NOT advisable in these cases. If the muscles are tensing up to protect the other structures then, logically, relaxing the muscles could CAUSE damage.The hamstrings may be tight also, but it is usually due to the other muscles around them, such as the quads and pirifomis. These muscles are often overlooked, focusing on the hamstrings instead for only short term results.