The position in which someone holds their body when sitting or standing is referred to as posture. We have all heard about using ‘good posture’. It refers to the three natural curves that are present in a healthy spine. It may also be called neutral spine. The spinal column contains 33 vertebrae and while looking at the body it should appear vertical. Michaeleen Doucleff at NPR.org, heard on the morning edition, with subject on how to fix that pain in your back:
“My back hurts when I sit down.
It’s been going on for 10 years. It really doesn’t matter where I am — at work, at a restaurant, even on our couch at home. My lower back screams, “Stop sitting!”
To try to reduce the pain, I bought a kneeling chair at work. Then I got a standing desk. Then I went back to a regular chair because standing became painful.
I’ve seen physical therapists, orthopedic surgeons and pain specialists. I’ve mastered Pilates, increased flexibility and strengthened muscles. At one point, my abs were so strong my husband nicknamed them “the plate.”
All these treatments helped a bit, at first. But the pain never really went away. So a few years ago, I decided to accept reality: Sitting down is — and will always be — painful for me.
Then back in November, I walked into the studio of Jenn Sherer in Palo Alto, Calif. She is part of a growing movement on the West Coast to teach people to move and sit and stand as they did in the past — and as they still do in other parts of the world. For the past 8 years, Sherer has been helping people reduce their back pain.
I was interviewing Sherer for a story about bending. But she could tell I was in pain. So I told her my story.
Her response left me speechless: “Sitting is a place where you can find heaven in your joints and in your back,” she says. “It’s not sitting that’s causing the pain, it’s how you’re sitting.
“Do you want me to show you how?”
Do hunter-gatherers sit less than we do?
Recently there’s been a lot of talk about how much Americans sit.
There’s a perception that we sit way more than any other culture out there — or even any culture throughout time. For the first time in human history, we sit for these long stretches, day after day.
Anthropologist David Raichlen at the University of Arizona says that is not accurate.
“No. Not from our data,” says Raichlen.
Raichlen studies modern hunter-gatherers called Hadza, in Tanzania. They live primarily off wild foods, such as tubers, honey and barbecued porcupines. And to acquire this food, there’s no doubt they are active.
They climb and chop trees to get honey. They dig for tubers and pound nuts.
“They do a lot of upper body work,” Raichlen says. “And they spend quite a bit of time walking — at a pretty high rate of speed.”
On average, Hadza adults spend about 75 minutes each day exercising, Raichlen says. That amount is way more than most Americans exercise. Many of us can’t muster a measly 2.5 hours each week, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So there’s no doubt the Hadza are in better cardiovascular health than most Americans.
But do the Hadza actually sit less than we do?
A few years ago, Raichlen and colleagues decided to find out. They strapped heart-rate monitors onto nearly 50 Hadza adults for eight weeks and measured how often each day, they were just, well … sitting around. The results shocked Raichlen.
“The Hadza are in resting postures about as much as we Americans are,” he says. “It’s about 10 hours a day.”
By comparison, Americans sit about nine to 13 hours each day, on average, a study reported in 2016.
But here’s the thing: The Hadza don’t seem to have the back issues that we Americans have, even as they age.
“Not that we have found,” Raichlen says. “There hasn’t been a ton of studies looking into muscle and joint pain in the Hadza groups, but people are highly active across the life span. There are some declines in activity with age but nowhere near what you get in the U.S.”
Not how much, but how we sit
So maybe Sherer is right. Maybe the problem, when it comes to back pain, isn’t how much Americans are sitting, but the way we’re sitting.
“Yes, I think that’s probably a big part of the story,” Raichlen says.
Orthopedic surgeon Nomi Khan agrees.
“Most of us do not sit well, and we’ve certainly been putting a lot more stress on our spines,” says Khan, who operates on spines at Sutters Health’s Palo Alto Medical Foundation.”
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