Holiday season is soon upon us, where we pack up our suitcases and prepare ourselves for what seems to be the inevitable wait.
Be it stuck in a traffic jam, waiting at the airport or on a long flight, sitting for long periods of time seems unavoidable.
So what to do?
Firstly – and perhaps most importantly – remember that we are not designed to sit for long periods of time. There is numerous, well-documented research that shows sitting for long periods of time without getting up and moving has a detrimental effect on our health. My advice would be to keep moving and only sit when absolutely necessary.
Secondly, know how to sit correctly. If you sit incorrectly, you can cause low back pain, neck tension and muscle fatigue.
We have a natural ’S’ shape to our spine which is designed to absorb and distribute any stress encountered during rest and activity. When the spine and body are properly supported, the back muscles, ligaments and discs are not strained. Sitting with a ‘C’ shape to our spine, which is increasing common, is really bad for us, affecting not only our spine health, but also impinging on our abdomen. This affects our ability to digest food properly. It also impacts upon our rib cage, impinging upon our breathing. This disturbs the amount of oxygen we are able to breathe in and the amount of carbon dioxide we breath out. This can lead us to feel tired and influences our mental ability.
4 Top Tips for Sitting Correctly:
- Sit with your hips and buttocks as far back in the middle of the seat as possible. Ideally there should be a small amount of space between the back of the knee and the edge of the seat.
- Your feet should be flat on the floor, knees bent and knees at hip level or a little lower.
- If you are going to lean back against the chair, make sure the upper and lower back is supported. You may need to put something at the curve in your low back, such as a small pillow or rolled up towel to make this position comfortable, to that your spinal muscles can relax.
- Make sure that any armrests are at the correct height. The idea of armrests is when arms are properly supported, the neck and shoulders can relax. If the armrests are too high, they push your shoulders up towards your ears creating tensions in the surrounding muscles. To relax your shoulders, the easiest thing is to cross your arms over your chest. You can then rest them on a lap pillow or your bag.
Interesting videos to watch:
We are all different shapes and sizes, some with longer or shorter legs, torsos etc. than others. Getting to know your body is key – so if you have a choice of chairs to sit in, you know which one to head for. Ideally you should find a chair that allows you to sit as described above. Dining style chairs are usually pretty good for this, but if they have a wooden / plastic seat they can be uncomfortable if sitting for long periods. Sofa / armchairs are more comfortable, but be aware as these tend to be much lower and you then “sink” into them, making getting out of them more difficult. Lying on sofas is much better if they are low.
Ideally we should stop regularly and get out and walk around for a few minutes. The reality is that we want to get there as soon as possible, so we just keep going without a break. Checking the route for any road works before you set off is a good idea. Technology is great, and many sat nav systems now include current traffic information that is continually being updated so that you can make a detour if needed, or take a break prior to hitting a traffic jam. I personally like getting up really early and getting on the road whilst it’s still reasonably quiet. This means the journey is stress free and you are at your destination with the whole day ahead of you.
Sitting in your car:
- Have your seat slightly reclined to prevent sitting straight up which will increase the compression to your low back.
- Make sure your seat fills the gap in the curvature of your low back. If it doesn’t you could put a pillow / towel / back support there to help you maintain the natural curves of your spine.
- Sit so that your shoulders and arms are in a relaxed position on the steering wheel. Instead of holding at the ten and two o’clock positions, position your hands around the nine and three o’clock positions. If not driving, make sure your arms and shoulders are relaxed.
- Your head should rest comfortably on the neck support of your seat. The top of the backrest should be slightly above the top of your head, with your head directly in middle of the support. This will help to prevent whiplash if you are rear-ended. Avoid having your head and neck forward and not supported.
- Adjust your steering wheel so that your shoulders and arms are below ninety degrees.
- Position your seat so that there are no pressure points on your buttocks or thighs. Make sure that your back pockets are empty and you are not sitting on anything. Using a gel seat can help to alleviate any pressure points that you may experience.
- Make sure that you can see all mirrors properly without having to twist or turn your neck excessively.
- Sit erect and do not slouch, as this will put excessive strain on your tissues.
- Always make sure there is adequate room to get in and out of the car without having to put your body in awkward positions. You should be able to swing your legs in and out comfortable.
- Get into the car by sitting in the seat first and then swinging your legs in and do the opposite to get out.
- Always extend back and do a few lunges after long drives. Reach up for the sky after sitting in traffic for extended periods of time to reset your spine.
- Do not try and sit in one position, but “fidget”. Try and get regular breaks if it is a long journey.
I like these links:
Preparation is the key.
If you already suffer with back pain you could ask your GP to write a letter to your airline and flight crew. You may get special dispensations, such as an upgrade, be allowed to lie on the the floor and rest during long flights, given extra blankets and cushions and be allowed to walk around as often as needed.
If suffering, ask your GP for extra prescription drugs like painkillers or muscles relaxants to help make the journey easier.
You can also get help at the airport, such a wheelchairs, early boarding, luggage carried etc.
Choose the time of your flight and seats.
You might want to chose flights that are not as busy, don’t have early starts, and have minimal in-flight connections or layovers. I would also say buy the most expensive seat you can afford and chose your airline carefully, as some economy / premium economy seats are better than others before you have to consider moving into business etc. Exit aisle seats have easier legroom, but you risk getting knocked, whilst window seats generally have a little less room, but you get to rest against the fuselage if you wanted to sleep.
During the flight.
If you need medication, make sure that you have it with you and make sure that you have taken some an hour before your flight so that it is in your system and working. You may find a pillow at the base of your spine, and a neck pillow for your neck useful. Watch your posture. Make sure that you get up and move, possibly stand at the back of the plane and do some stretches. I like to do a walking movement with my feet and ankles when sitting – to keep circulation going.
Here is a link to exercises for you to do: