Friday, November 18, 2011

Fighting the "Creep" Within Us All

Many of my incoming clients always complain of a "pain" they feel when they sit for long periods of time. Many experience an achy feeling in their neck, traps, mid-back, and low-back. When they get out of their chair, they feel that same achy feeling in their hips, front thighs, and lower backs. I would say that 90% of my clientèle has described the same feeling to me upon meeting for the first time, and out of those 90% at least 80% sit for long periods of time--whether it is at a desk job or simply in front of the TV or computer. 

That "pain" is what a small group of fitness professionals have coined "creep". I like the term creep because that is exactly what it begins to CREEP up on you. But what exactly is creeping up on you? For starters, if you are sitting for long periods--as in a desk job staring at a computer--chances are you have been doing it for a while. In time, the muscles responsible for your seated posture become fatigued in static positions. Depending on your seated position, muscle groups remain in constant shortened lengths and isometrically,  they begin to fatigue or the fascia that surrounds them becomes irritable. For instance, if you sit slumped in your chair the erector muscles [of the back] do not contract as if you were sitting upright. These muscles become weakened and the upper trapezius become overly tight from taking on the bulk of isometric contraction. Think about it: your head weighs around 9 pounds. If you are slumped over your shoulders staring at a computer monitor, the traps are contracted constantly in order to keep your head from nodding forward (hitting the screen). These muscles, along with the muscles of the neck (preferably the splenius) become stiff from being shortened for long periods. the erector muscles run along each side of the spine. They become fatigued because they are in a state of constant stretch.

Static posture means your body "freezes" into certain positions because the musculature framework has become accustomed to the position or shape your body has been in for a period of time. Walk into any major company or speak to any secretary whom has done their job for over 5 years. Look at their chair. You will see two things:

1.) a beat up chair that they love and do not want to get rid of because...
2.) it has become the shape of their buttocks and body

Will a new chair or ergonomics program help with combating the discomfort of creep? In the short-term, yes it will simply because a corrected posture in a new ergonomic chair will force spastic muscles to relax because support is provided by the form of the new chair (or set up). However, as gravity continues to pound on the body vertically, muscles will eventually tire and become shortened. If the victim is overweight, a non-exerciser, and older aged, chances are the new ergonomic chair will only provide temporary relief.

Prolonged static seated postures have a tendency to cause joint adhesiveness, shortened muscles, and poor fascia /tissue quality. More specifically, it can cause the following:
1.) Shortened hip flexors
2.) Shortened/weak and tight psoas
3.) Tight/weak spinal erectors
4.) Shortened upper traps
5.) Weakened/lengthened middle and lower traps
6.) Shortened pectorals
7.) Tight/weak cervical flexors
8.) Shortened/weak calves
9.) Weakened abdominals and phasic musculature
10.) Tight forearm flexors and weak extensors

So what can one do to combat "creep"? Creep is actually a great warning signal. When you feel it it, what do most people do? They either rub it with a free hand, stand up or fidget. Those are perfect temporary remedies one can perform while in the office. A sound exercise program preceded by a postural and muscular assessment would be the ideal solution; however, creep needs to be fought on a daily and hourly basis. The best way to combat creep is to plan to move around and fidget several times an hour before the actual "warning signal" is fired off by the body. Studies show that simply moving your body positions can help stave off any pain and discomfort felt in joints from sitting.

Here is an easy, albeit temporary solution for keeping creep at wayside. I recommend to my clients that have desk jobs to simply perform this movement/stretch at least 4 times per hour.

Once in the gym, combating creep is not finished. Since we spend a majority of our day in a forward flexed position, we need to place our bodies in a forced extended position. This next drill is using a medicine ball and really calls on the client to be supervised and progressed with prerequisite exercises like planks, bridges, and some static stretching.

Creep is a cumulative bashing on our bodies. It is subtle and sometimes tolerable; however, it damages the body with series after series of neglect and improper attention. When you feel the "warning signal", make sure you MOVE, FIDGET, and STRETCH.


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