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Reclining Is Good For Your Back

When you have to sit for long periods of time, do you naturally tend to slide your bum forward so that your lower back is slightly reclined? If so, you might consider purchasing a chair that has a built-in reclining feature.

Contrary to popular belief, sitting in a reclined position is healthier for the lower back than sitting upright is. This contention was bolstered by information presented at a recent meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.

Researchers at the University of Alberta Hospital used a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) device to examine how much stress various seated postures put on the ligaments of the spine. Their key findings were as follows:

  1. Sitting upright for hours at a time puts unnecessary stress on the entire back, which can increase the risk of experiencing chronic back pain.
  2. Reclining to create a 135-degree angle between the thighs and trunk puts less stress on the ligaments of the spine than sitting upright at 90 degrees or slouching slightly forward does.
  3. Of the three positions tested, sitting upright at 90 degrees put the most stress on ligaments of the spine, particularly on the intervertebral discs.

When I was in chiropractic school, I learned that the spine experiences approximately three times more stress when a person is seated compared to when he or she is standing. This makes perfect sense when you consider that while standing, your pelvis and lower extremities absorb some of the weight of your upper body. When you are seated, most of your upper body weight is absorbed by your spine.

Even worse for the spine than sitting in a chair for hours at a time is sitting in moving vehicle for long stretches. The up-and-down vibration that occurs while sitting in a moving vehicle adds extra stress to one's back ligaments and muscles.

Drawing upon my experiences as a chiropractor over the past ten years, I can state with certainty that truck drivers who are on the road 8-12 hours per day for many days at a time tend to have more back problems than any other group of people. Dentists, dental hygienists, and office workers also tend to have a higher-than-average tendency to experience back problems.

Here are my most important suggestions for treating and preventing chronic back problems:

  1. If your job requires that you sit for hours each day, make a conscious effort to stand up every half hour and take a short walk around the office. Even half a minute of standing and walking every 30 minutes can make a positive difference in the health of your back. Even better than briefly standing or walking every 30 minutes is lying face-up on the ground and stretching your arms and legs away from your core for a few seconds.
  2. If you are a student and you have classes that go for 50 minutes or more at a time, sit near the back of the room where you can stand up for a short stretch halfway through your class. You can explain why you are doing this to your teacher before class.
  3. Stretch your hamstrings on a regular basis. Short hamstrings can create a downward pull on your pelvis, which can put unnecessary stress on your spine.
  4. Do exercises that keep your abdomen strong. Strong abdominal muscles can help to relieve your spine of some of the weight of your upper body.
  5. Wear comfortable shoes. Wearing high heels and other types of shoes that don't allow you to run at full speed can cause your back to face stress associated with compensatory biomechanical forces.

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