When people sit for long periods the hip flexors are affected and back pain can result. This tends to “shorten” or constrict muscles affecting the lower back. If your hip flexors are shortened through lengthy sitting, when you stand up they will pull on the femur at one end of the hip, along with the lumbar spine (your lower back). This pulling (like a rubber band) causes the hip to tilt forward and the lumbar curvature to increase (often referred to as excess lordosis).
This all leads to lower back and hip pain. It’s like two rubber bands pulling in the opposite directions so your lower back is stressed.
Knee pain can occur in some cases – all affecting your gait and posture.The anterior pelvic tilt will generate a stronger curvature of the thoracic spine (upper back) otherwise you would be leaning backwards all the time! This misaligned posture generates kyphosis (curvature of the spine), contributes to neck and shoulder pain and sometimes headaches and can impact on circulation to the brain and eyes due to constriction around the neck. The spine is completely out of balance since what affects the lower part of the spine will impact on the upper part known as the axis supporting the head. It’s a simple polarisation.
We all have a tiny amount of natural pelvic tilt; the problem occurs when this is exaggerated and creates tension and pain resulting in a distorted posture. When the gait is affected and no treatment is received to correct the pelvic rotation/tilt then this will have a negative impact on all bearing joints.
Many people simply put up with it and never seek help.
This misalignment not only causes pain and stiffness to persist but the knee and hip joints begin to wear down over time.
Hip and knee replacement is not always due to mineral imbalance or injuries but can be due to misalignment of the entire body and pelvic imbalance impacting on your bearing joints every time you move.
When you sit for lengthy periods or, worse still, on soft sofas that don’t support your lower back, you develop tight psoas muscles. Psoas muscles flex the hip and spinal column and are approximately 40cms long in an adult. They are one of the largest and thickest muscles in the body.
The psoas runs down the low mid spine from the 12 thoracic vertebrae (at the back of your lungs) and connects to all the vertebral bodies, discs and transverse processes of lumbar vertebra right down across to the pelvis then attaches on the inside at the top of the leg at the lesser trochanter (hip joint).
I describe the above just to let you see how large and important this muscle is.
The lower part of the psoas combines with fibres from the iliacus muscle sitting inside the surface of the pelvis and sacrum (very low back) then becomes the Iliopsoas muscle, which curves over the pubic bone to insert on the lesser trochanter.
This description allows you to see how the psoas extends itself over the body and how general lower back pain can result from distortion of the psoas muscle, which in turn can tilt and rotate the pelvis.
If you have poor posture, trauma, walk incorrectly or sit for too long, the psoas muscle can stay tight and contracted. It is a strong muscle so regular stretching is required to relax it.
Sitting all day means the body must adjust to an “abnormal” position since as “hunter gatherers” we are meant to be moving forward and active.
The body adjusts itself and accommodates the need to sit so that muscles become tight and shorten. Prolonged daily sitting creates the way for an abnormal holding of the psoas leading to a dysfunctional pattern in the body. Now you can see how important it is to get up and walk around often if you have to work sitting down for hours. Quit being the couch potato and get out there walking.
If you have unresolved trauma, the psoas can tighten and become short in response to the flight/ fight response to danger. The psoas is powerful and prepares the body to run and flee from danger. The problem can occur if the muscle is not released and relaxed, but remains in a contracted state for a long time becoming even shorter leading to spasm. Then when you need it to flee danger you might just get caught since the psoas will not perform well enough due to chronic tension.
The psoas is often referred to as a primal messenger of the central nervous system. It is an emotional muscle expressing what is felt deep within the gut core, often referred to as your “gut feelings”.
When the pelvis tilts you often pronate more and that can cause problems with feet, in particular the ball of the foot and large toe.
If untreated for years, bunions and corns along with calcification can arise due to wrong placement of the foot on the ground. The arch can also weaken. Plantar fasciitis can result.
So you can see how sitting for hours is not conducive to your back even when you have a good quality back support. We are simply not meant to sit for hours yet people in office jobs or who drive vehicles for a living are subjected to this abnormal positioning of the body every day.
A tense psoas can disturb digestion, reproductive functioning and create a host of other ailments.
When constriction is released and energised, this often generates feelings of pleasure and being comfortable.
When you hear people complaining about lower back pain it could be due to what I have described here and a general massage is not always enough.
Effective Therapies: Bowen therapy, sports massage (including trigger point and acupressure), osteopathic and Rolfing to name a few can free up stiffness and correct posture alignment. A conventional treatment is usually physiotherapy.
Each therapy differs. I use Bowen Therapy which is an energy based bodywork encouraging the body to align by working on meridians and acupressure points. Bowen Therapy balances the entire body. There is rarely any discomfort with this therapy yet sports massage, acupressure and trigger point can be quite uncomfortable and sometimes painful especially if your problem is chronic (three months or more) and inflammation is present.
Correct exercises to stretch and open up the muscles are needed after treatments to encourage the body to be more flexible. Usually 2-4 treatments are required, but some cases may require more. Patients are encouraged to practise relevant exercises in between treatments and ongoing for maintenance and flexibility.
The “take home message” is: sit, carry and walk correctly, learn correct stretches and have regular treatments to maintain postural alignment before the above disorders arise.
Lyn Craven is a practitioner of Naturopathy, Bowen Therapy, Energy/Reiki therapist, meditation teacher and Corporate Health Consultant. She is also a health researcher/writer and has produced a meditation CD assisting people to manage anxiety and stress. She runs a private practice in Sydney and can be contacted on +61403 231 804