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Why prolonged sitting is SO detrimental for your shoulders

A Foundational Truth.

“The integrity of our shoulders rise or fall, on the symbiotic relationship it has with the spine.” Tim Barsellotti, 2021

Our skeleton has been wonderfully created, and yet the beauty and the downfall is the inextricable link between the posture of the shoulder and the spine.

The shoulder blades, and muscles around the shoulder connect into and around the spinal column, specifically the thoracic spine (1). Thus meaning, if you curl up in a chair for long periods of time, like the curled nature of your spine, your shoulders follow suit.

The good news: If we serve our spine well, it pays us back with healthy back, shoulder and neck.

The bad news: If we don’t treat our spine well, we are highly likely to end up with degeneration in our shoulders, spine and neck.

There is hope: If you are reading this, then

The spine has over 120 muscles in it giving us flexibility, cartilage that expands and contracts to adapt to our activities, and an incredible muscle memory that remembers and becomes accustomed to your posture.

So with all that excellent spinal support Tim, why is prolonged sitting so bad???

Look at the images below, and see for yourself.

What is the importance of the spine-shoulder relationship?

As you can see, if we sit up straight, the shoulders stay in their proper place, whereas, if we slump in the low back, our shoulders round and upper back curls – due to the connection with the thoracic/upper spine.

If our shoulders curl forwards as in the top left image, it places:

  • significant strain on your neck muscles
  • produces tightness in the pec muscles
  • and crucially, a narrowing of the space in your shoulder where the rotator cuff tendons pass through – which if left unchecked (like 99% of occasions) degeneration of tendons and joints commences!


The Reality Check

The likelihood is, is that you are sat right now…. question is… when did you last get up? did you start sitting up straight like a ruler the minute you started reading?

For many of us, it is a daily battle to ensure that we do not sit for longer than the hallowed 30-minutes(2).

There are many blockers that get in our way of taking the effort, to get up and move about. It is surely the hardest discipline of any desk worker…. that and sorting our desk ergonomics! Some blockers you may resonate with;

  1. Long meetings with no breaks (who does that?!…most of the west by the sound of it!)
  2. Imminent deadline
  3. Consistently heavy workload
  4. Habits
  5. Effort

 

💡 KNOWN (but ignored) FACT:
“The human body was not created to sit for long periods of time uninterrupted.”

Historically, we are beings used to hunt for food, be active outside walking from place to place. The present day reality, is that we sit behind our desks for hours on end, and hardly move, or if we do, we carry the negative foundations with us and cause damage, when we think we are doing good.

What do you mean, Tim?

Well, let’s say you sit at your desk for 2-4 hr chunks, and do a HITT workout and a walk every single day…. but do no self-care to offset the specific issues of prolonged sitting, would that not be enough?

Simply, NO.

In fact, you are likely to be making it worse…. what! worse??!!

By lifting weights, even your own bodyweight, and doing some active walking, yes you are helping your heart, and lungs and your many muscles, your shoulders will actually be degrading more, through the loading you are putting through already tight muscles, and narrow spaces. So those press ups and pull ups you thought were helping you….. could actually be kicking you very quickly into shoulder impingement, or a rotator cuff tear.

So, how do I stop that happening? Well, here are your 5 quick takeaways!


Your 5 takeaways:

  1. Set an alarm for every 30-minutes to remind you to stand up and move about!
  2. Be the change, you are seeking. If you are leading meetings, take the initiative for everyones health and call for a 30-minute move time! (or, provide the feedback to management)
  3. Look and assess your sitting device. Chairs can work well, but be open to kneeling and saddle chairs. They are highly effective. If you aren’t confident in assessing your workstation, reach out to a Physio or Ergonomist who is experienced in this.
  4. Get stretching those pecs, and strengthening those upper shoulder muscles.
  5. Consider investing in a standing desk.

 

💡 Watch out for our article on ‘Standing desks: the what and the why’ that will be coming to an inbox near you very soon!

 

References:

  1. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/ap1x94x1/chapter/the-thoracic-cage-the-ribs-and-sternum/
  2. https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M17-0212

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