Woman experiencing joint pain at her desk

Can I Injure Myself by Just Sitting Still?

Though it may seem counterintuitive that you can injure your spine, joints, and muscles while sitting at your computer or watching TV, the fact is that a great many people experience pain and dysfunction as a result of spending too much time sitting in a supposedly relaxed position.

According to the National Institutes of Health, there is “a high prevalence of musculoskeletal symptoms reported amongst sedentary workers,” and at Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine we find this to be true. 

While our physiatrists treat many patients with sports and accident injuries, we also provide various nonsurgical remedies to those who come to us in serious pain traceable to inactivity.

It has now been proven that not only are disease conditions like cardiovascular problems, obesity, type 2 diabetes, depression, and anxiety more frequently found in sedentary patients, but so are certain types of spinal and other musculoskeletal disorders. 

Remaining seated for too long can leave your spine achy, stiff, and sore. This is because, depending on what you’re doing while sitting (typing, holding a book or phone, etc.), you may be putting increased stress on the muscles of your neck, shoulders, hips, or buttocks, as well as on the discs of your neck and back. You are also spending a great deal of time not giving your body the exercise it needs.

At our offices, we focus on pain management and restoration of function, which includes paying close attention to preventing discomfort and impaired mobility. Seeing a skilled physiatrist can help to relieve your pain and assist you in regaining the ability to move more easily; it can also provide you with helpful recommendations concerning exercises and lifestyle changes that can improve your quality of life.

Types of Injuries You May Develop by Just Sitting Still for Prolonged Periods

A number of painful and weakening conditions may result from sitting for too long, whether because you have a sedentary occupation or because you spend too much time browsing, researching, or shopping on the computer, sitting and reading, basking in the sun, or chatting with friends over coffee or tea. Although time spent this way may be pleasant and seem utterly harmless, unfortunately, it is not. Research has shown that this lack of activity may result in serious:

  • Neck pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Stiffness and/or lack of mobility in any of these regions
  • Slouching and poor posture
  • Muscle weakness
  • Strained ligaments

Congenital anomalies, obesity, and aging increase the risk of developing any of these problems. While all of the above-mentioned difficulties are common, lower back pain is the second most frequent cause of disability in the United States, occurring in more than 80 percent of the population at some point in their lives.

Diagnosing the Specific Problem Is Crucial to Administering Proper Treatment

It is not enough to surmise that your pain and mobility issues have arisen due to sitting too much. In order to treat you successfully, we must get to the root cause of your pain. At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, we place great importance on accurate diagnosis, and have comprehensive diagnostic methods and equipment available. A thorough diagnosis will involve taking a full medical history, including any previous surgeries or underlying conditions, and a physical examination of the troublesome area.

Depending on what we find, we may use of one or more of the following diagnostic tests:

  • Imaging studies: X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, diagnostic ultrasound
  • Injections that numb nerves to find out whether the facet joints of your spine are affected
  • Ultrasound- or fluoroscopy-guided injections to pinpoint your pain’s origin
  • Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies

Treatments that Help Pain Caused by Too Much Sitting

Once we know whether your pain is caused by muscle weakness and its consequences or something more complex, like a pinched nerve, a stress fracture, or a herniated disc, we will be able to choose from our several treatment options that include:

  • Acupuncture
  • PRP (platelet enriched plasma) therapy
  • Customized physical therapy to stabilize and strengthen joints and/or muscles
  • Taping, bracing or using assistive devices temporarily
  • Ultrasound-guided injections of corticosteroid and analgesics
  • PEMF (pulsed electromagnetic field) therapy

How can I avoid sitting injuries going forward?

It is strongly recommended that you stand up, stretch, and walk around a bit every half hour or so, in order to alleviate both muscular and emotional tension. Adjustable standing desks that allow you to alternate your posture while working are a wonderful innovation since they enable you to move and change positions more than you otherwise could. Investing in an ergonomic chair that provides your back with proper support is also wise, as is reminding yourself to maintain proper posture.

Easy Suggestions to Take

Other beneficial actions you can take to protect yourself from the ills of extended sitting include taking a short walk during a break at work or a free 15 minutes at home, parking a bit further away from your office or your errand destination, and taking regular breaks to stretch and re-energize.