Recent articles about “sitting injuries” highlight the possible consequences of sitting for too long.
To that, I add, “sitting at a high level of concentration with minimal movement.” The combination sets up a pattern of tension involving the psoas muscles, hip joint flexors (near the front pockets of your trousers), and the low back muscles.
This entry clarifies the “why” of such sitting injuries and how to avoid them.
In the ’90s, I became aware of a fanciful seating alternative called ‘The Nada-chair”.
It consisted of two loops, about thigh length, attached at opposite sides of a back-pad. The loops went about ones knees, the back-pad behind your sacrum/low back. The pull on the loops by your knees pulled the back-pad against you, creating a secure support for your back. All you needed to do was stay balanced.
The ilio-psoas muscles perform a similar function, although attached at your groins, not at your knees. The part that pulls on your back like the back-pad (but on the inside), we call the psoas muscles; the part that pulls on your pelvis from the inside, we call the iliacus muscles. Together, they share a tendon at your groin, and so we call them the iliopsoas muscles. They span the distances between your groin on each side and your low back and between your groin and your inner pelvis on both sides. Their pull on your low back is like the pull on the back-pad, only along more of your back as high as your diaphragm; their pull on your pelvis on both inside surfaces pulls the pelvis top-forward, adding to the support of your back.
In that way, your iliopsoas muscles are like the Nada-chair. When you are sitting in a chair, your iliopsoas muscles shorten to hold you up, especially if you are sit perched on the edge of your chair (as so many do), but those muscles shorten also in those who slouch back in their chairs and hunch forward.
When your hamstrings get tight, as happens when you get into — and work in — a high-stress-state too often and for too long, your hamstrings pull on your sitbones (deep to the creases of the buttocks). In the sitting position, tight hamstrings pull your bottom out from under you, forward; they cause you to sit too much on your “pockets” (tailbone). Tight hamstrings are one reason people slouch back in their chairs.
To sit erect, under that condition, people with tight hamstrings
must tighten their hip joint flexors and psoas muscles to counteract
the pull, to bring themselves forward and lift themselves up.
the same high stress state tightens the back muscles, as part of a
pattern of nervous tension. Eventually, the back muscles tire and the
Please see this article and the embedded instructional video to free tight hamstrings.
So, in closing
If you spend too much time in your chair, particularly at attention at a high level of stress, with minimal movement, in either position, you have successfully followed the formula for creating tight, short iliopsoas muscles. Congratulations.
Not only that, but muscles under tension formed this way and maintained by habit are the first to tighten under stress and the last to let go when the stress is over. That’s one explanation for why people mysteriously tighten up into pain some time after an injury.
We become how we live. We get more and more familiar with being certain ways, more and more ready to be those ways, more and more set in the muscular tension set of those ways, our attitudes and our remembered reactions to everything that’s happened to us in our lives. It all builds up as our “set” — as in “set in our ways” — a pattern of muscular tension as well as a psychological state.
Sit for too many hours all the time, your Nada-chair muscles get set at a shortened length. You can never really stand up all the way. If tension accumulates, those muscles may become too tight even when lying down and you won’t be able to sleep on your stomach. The same thing happens with your hamstrings and your back, only it’s your knees and back that get affected, until you develop groin pain, deep pelvic pain, a deep belly-ache, and possibly sacro-iliac pain.
Then, your massage therapist gets his or her elbow ready. Are you ready?
There is an alternative.
You can do something to change your postural set (which comes from muscle/movement memory) — besides “trying to have good posture”, which doesn’t work very well, you may have noticed.
If you take these steps, you’ll end the pain, be able to stand up and walk comfortably, at last.
If you don’t, you may just stay in the condition you’re in, which brought you to this page.
all most people need
- somatic education exercises to free hamstrings
- video of exercises and introductions to exercises to change postural set and movement