Your Hip Muscles vs. Your Chair: Who is Winning?

Lately, we at Buffalo Rehab Group have really been harping on the costly effects sitting has on our bodies. If you are thinking this article will be a change of tune, think again. Instead of reviewing how sitting affects the posture of our low back, neck, and shoulders we will focus on what changes below the belt. What happens to our hip muscles when we spend the national average of thirteen (YES, THIRTEEN!) hours a day sitting (1)?

There are thirty five muscles which attach to our pelvis. Instead of boring you with how sitting changes EACH ONE, let’s focus on two of the major muscle groups: the hip flexors (iliopsoas) and the hamstrings. The photo below (4) shows the changes which occur to these muscles when we sit vs. when we stand.

sitting-hip-flexibility-physical-therapy

The hamstrings are a group of three muscles which rest on the back of our legs. They are a large, powerful group of muscles which provide a lot of power while we are walking, climbing stairs, and when getting up from a chair. The hip flexors (iliopsoas) connect your spine and pelvis to your thigh bone in the front of your hip. This muscle allows you to lift your leg and plays a key role in stabilizing your pelvis.

When we sit, our hips flexors and the hamstrings are in their shortest position, decreasing their flexibility. Why is this important for you? Shortened muscles in turn become weaker muscles, leaving you with less strength for the hours you are not spending sitting. That means less power when chasing after your children, a harder time climbing that second flight of stairs, and maybe even a second, or third attempt to get out of your chair before you can actually stand.

To add insult to injury, these tight muscles can change the resting position of your pelvis, throwing off your posture and affecting your spine. Decreased iliopsoas flexibility will pull the pelvis forward (anteriorly rotating it). Check out how that rotation pulls on the spine in the picture below (4).

anterior-pelvic-rotation-physical-therapy

How to stretch

Technology has evolved far faster than our bodies. Our muscles have not adapted to our new eight hour work shift sitting in front of the computer. While sitting a majority of the day may be unavoidable, there are several ways to help your muscles, spine, and hips tolerate their new positions.

Three quick tips to follow:

1. Get up from your chair AT LEAST every hour. Try to avoid the excuse of “I am too busy at work to get up from my desk.” You are never too busy to take care of your body and improve your health.
2. Lead an active lifestyle outside of your work day. You may be tired after a long day of sitting at the office, however going from a brisk walk, hitting the gym for 30 minutes, or playing with your children might be the energy boost you need to enjoy the rest of your evening.
3. Try these two quick stretches to directly target the hip flexors and hamstrings. Your back, pelvis and hips will thank you!

hip-flexor-stretch-physical-therapy To perform this stretch place one foot on a chair or your stairs. Keep the bottom knee straight, with your toes pointed directly forward. Keeping your abdominal muscles tight, gently lunge forward (keeping bottom leg straight), to feel a stretch in the front of the hip on the leg which is on the floor. Hold for about 5 seconds, repeat 10 times to both sides.

hamstring-stretch-physical-therapy For this hamstring stretch, place one foot up on a chair or your steps keeping the knee straight. Your bottom knee also stays straight, with your toes pointed directly forward. Keeping your spine straight, gently hinge at the hips forward to feel a pull in the back of the leg on the steps. Hold for about 5 seconds, repeat 10 times to both sides.

References:

1. American Medical Association. “The Facts: Sit to Stands Basics” http://www.juststand.org/tabid/816/default.aspx
2.Lis, Angela Maria, Katia M. Black, Hayley Korn, and Margareta Nordin. “Association between Sitting and Occupational LBP.” European Spine Journal 16.2 (2006): 283-98. Web.
3. “Why Your Psoas Muscle Is The Most Vital Muscle in Your Body.” Christiane Northrup, M.D. N.p., 06 Dec. 2016. Web. 19 Jan. 2017.
4. SunSpiral, Vytas. “Office Ergonomics: Why Sitting Will Kill You.” BeingHuman. N.p., 25 June 2011. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.

hip-flexibility-sitting-physical-therapy

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