You Become What You Do: Part 1

January 13th 2017 |

I think modern lifestyle has a lot to answer for. We see loads of injuries that happen because of being one position for too long. We basically live our lives in a flexed posture; we sleep curled up, we sit most of the day to read, drive, play games, work, then maybe we go to a spin class and sit some more or we spend leisure time in a similar position. So basically we are evolving to become chair shaped and along the way some muscles are stressed in ways they are not designed to be stressed in. Maybe it’s no wonder that we have such a high prevalence of back and neck pain in westernised society. Because we don’t move enough through the day, some muscles become tight and other ones become weak then we stand up and expect the muscles to adapt to a new position really quickly.

Time and time again, we have people presenting with lower back pain, or pain in the upper back or pain in the neck. We assess their posture and see that the knees lock out, the hips sit too far forwards, the shoulders round forwards and the head sits in front of the shoulders. This is a really common posture called a sway back. If the body is not in the right position then it is not mechanically advantaged to work properly. Imagine a crane that has to lift something but the driver does not position the jib properly. You can imagine that the cables are under more strain as a result and at risk of breaking. Muscles are a little bit similar in that when the body is not in the correct position, some muscles have to work harder to move things.

If you do something often enough your body will adapt to it. You basically become what you do. In a sitting position, most of the muscles down the front of the body are held in a shortened position. These muscles become stuck in that position over time. The muscles down the back of the body are therefore in a lengthened position for long periods of time. Imagine an elastic band that has been held in a stretched position for long periods. As you can imagine, the elastic band is susceptible to small tears. Some of the muscles in the back are similar. Muscles held in stretched positions for long periods can cause pain. The body sees this as a warning sign and the pain is there to try and get your body out of that position.

There is also a different theory about sitting positions and general lack of movement. Some biomechanists believe that most of the systems in our bodies need movement. The cardiovascular system, digestion and the respiratory system are good examples. If we sit for long periods these systems cannot work as efficiently. For example, imagine you are bored at work and you slump deeper and deeper into your chair. Your lungs are more and more squashed up and therefore we shallow breath. Digestion requires the muscles to be active to push the stuff through the digestive tract. If we don’t move, the muscles aren't working as well and the stuff doesn’t move as well.

It's not just sitting that causes the problem. Repetitive sport can cause some muscles to behave in similar ways. Sport generally involves doing something repetitively over long periods of time. Every sport has its own series of general movements that cause problems over time. Think of cycling for example, you are in a sitting position for a long time and your neck cranes forwards so you can see where you are going. It has similar effects as sitting long times. Many cyclists have a sore neck as a result.

So how do you change? Move in as many different ways as you can as often as possible. If you sit all day at work, get up and move every half hour. If you play a sport with repetitive movement, build rest weeks into your training plan.

Ross Smith

Physiotherapist