If you feel pain when sitting for an extended period, your body is signaling to you that something is wrong. Here are some tips to help you find relief.
At Montgomery Somatics, I want to provide more than just information. I want to help others learn something that transfers into another skill, function, or relational well-being. Hence, our tag line: “Reconnecting learning with human function, health, and well-being.” Most people don’t realize that “sitting” is more than a position that we use to “get things done,” like, driving, eating, toileting, working on the computer, watching entertainment, and socializing with friends, family, community.
As a baby develops the ability to sit, the sitting position starts to signal to the brain something about a higher order of balance and support—a new possibility of freedom begins to emerge. For the first time, you can take a good look around without falling over. And the intrinsic impulse to “move on purpose” arises from this vantage point. Sitting gives us a chance to be in the present moment, to survey what is around us, and eventually to choose what is next for us.
Nerves Don’t Like to Be Pinched
So, if sitting is a good thing, then why does it hurt to sit? Any google search will give you answers, but here is the one they don’t provide. Pain when sitting can be narrowed down to one cause: abnormal amount of pressure or impingement on nerves. They are many types, levels of distinction, categories, and names of nerves in the human body.
Nerves are everywhere, and the bottom line is they do not like to be twisted, pinched, compressed, or stretched. They all have their unique blood supply and lymphatic drainage system, and they all need a certain level of nutrition and removal of waste.
When we sit for long hours in a chair, staring at a computer screen, letting “eyes only” follow the blinking cursor, left-to-right, right-to-left, we induce a trance-like state, a stillness, and statue-like body posture. Our breathing slows, taking in only enough breath to stay alive, and before you know it, two hours have passed.
You awake from the trance because of a growing ache, an expanded tightness, an escalating numbness, and tingling that you no longer can ignore. You decide to move in some way, stretch, yawn, take a drink of water, and after a certain amount of time, the nerves literally cannot take the insult anymore.
Pain becomes the predominating sensation that finally gets your attention. Pain when sitting is telling your mind that there is a problem, a grave concern, that the position you are in creates sufficient pressure, compression, twist, pinch, or stretch, which compromises and threatens the survival of the nerve or nerves trying to reach their intended target.
Nerves are craving relief, and the brain says help is on the way, and unconsciously you are forced to change your position: shift to the other sit bone, cross over the other leg or better yet, tuck that leg underneath you. Some get up and move: time to stand, walk, or turn on the movement app on the phone and stretch.
Why Is There Pressure?
A better question to ask is, why is there pressure on the nerve(s)? How you sit matters and conveys essential information to the brain and its decision-making process of what muscles need to tighten and keep you into a specific position!
The shape of the torso and imprint of the sitting bones reveals your entire history—past injuries, falls, bumps, and ‘boo-boos’. Your years of compensation and accommodation that your brain makes so that your eyes maintain the ability to see at a natural horizon level is the top priority. Your center of gravity, located in the deep pelvis, has either shifted right, left, forward, backward, or a combination of the above.
Your brain’s job is to maintain efficiency and self-regulate your body’s sitting posture to keep your head level. It is why you are “tight” in certain muscles and weak in others. It is why you are always sitting on the one sit bone heavier’ than the other. It is why you don’t turn as well in one direction or find it difficult to lift one arm or leg and not the other. And when the incongruency of the center of mass and base of support chronically altered, you start to notice that one entire side is ALWAYS giving you problems.
Three Tips for Pain When Sitting
If this sounds like your story of struggle, let me give you three tips.
First, drink more water. Yes, you have heard this SO many times, but it is true. Tissues need hydration. Also, you will feel the urge to get up and go to the bathroom. Take the opportunity to move and reset that center of mass!
Secondly, notice how deeply you are breathing. You can continue to read this article or type that report and also track the amount of inhaling. Can you increase that current amount by 25% by 50%? Following the pull of the inhale and still attending to your work will move you out of the trance state and enable you to have a little more freedom of motion within your chair’s confines.
And lastly, on July 18, 2020, at 10:00 am EST, I will be offering a free 1.5-hour-long webinar on how using the walking pattern in a seated position can change the center of mass and base of support so that sitting can be a more comfortable and pleasurable experience.
I hope you can join me. Contact me for more information.
Carol is a physical therapist, a co-creator of Integral Human Gait theory, a certified Feldenkrais practitioner, and a Senior Trainer in Movement Intelligence. Focus, Align, Teach and Inspire! These qualities not only describe her work, but they also describe her presence. She is passionate when it comes to reconnecting learning with human function and health. Carol is in private practice at MontgomerySomatics.com in Columbus, Indiana.