When it comes to school, there are a lot of things that come to mind:  grades, homework, teachers, desks, probably more homework. Some of these things are good, some are bad, and some just are what they are.  Desks, for example, are a useful piece of furniture in the school setting. For short bouts of sitting/writing/working, they’re great. But at the end of an 8 hour school day where you’ve been sitting all day, or if you’re dealing with some sort of back or neck pain, desks can become more bothersome than they should be.

When people have pain or discomfort sitting in school, there are a few factors that come into play:  time, position, awareness, and strength/endurance.

  • Time – For most people, the longer you sit in one position the more discomfort you have.  For typical school schedules, there’s only so much time where you’re able to freely move around.  This becomes a problem, especially for grade school students if they’re in the same room for the entire school day.  For college students, you’re rarely in the same room (or building, for that matter), so there’s more opportunity to break up sitting stints with some movement snacks – stretch breaks, walking between classes, a quick round of exercises, etc.  Regardless of the situation, the important consideration here is that you move around often, like our bodies are meant to. If you or your child is stuck in a room for several hours at a time, seated stretches/exercises are an option.
  • Position – People bring up posture, or position, all the time, (we’re guilty of it as well) and it’s a bit overrated as an issue.  But that doesn’t mean you should stay in one position forever!  Your posture over any short period of time is not likely to lead to any issues; staying in one position for 8 hours a day without moving will.  When you’re not utilizing all the muscles/joints in your body fully on a regular basis you are going to develop weakness or mobility restrictions eventually.  The idea here is that if you spend most of your time slouched over, it’s a good idea to spend at least a part of your day in the opposite position. The slouching isn’t the problem, it’s the not moving out of the slouch part.
  • Awareness – Awareness is arguably the most important point on this list.  If you don’t see what position you’re in or how much time you’re spending in those positions, you won’t be able to identify your issues and work on them.  Another factor with awareness is understanding what factors contribute to any symptoms you might be having. Do you get pain sitting in harder chairs? Does your pain start when you’re in a particularly stressful class?  Does your pain start after sitting for a certain period of time? There’s a lot of factors that can contribute. See if you notice any of these patterns.
  • Strength/Endurance – You can’t go wrong getting strong.  Sitting itself is not something that requires a great deal of strength, so endurance might be a more appropriate term.  Either way, making the muscles around your spine more prepared for long bouts of sitting can go a long way in making sitting more comfortable.  Whether it’s your back or neck, working on the muscles around your shoulder blade helps support your head and neck so you can better tolerate whatever posture you like.  A good exercise would be a row (pictured here), working the muscles in the shoulder to fatigue 3-4 times a week.  Aim for 2-4 sets with a weight that makes 10-15 reps challenging. For the muscles on the spine, some trunk isometrics (which can be done while you’re sitting!) can go a long way to get those spinal muscles working better for you.  Try all three of these – one, two, three – 2-3 times a day, holding for 5-10 seconds for 3-5 reps.

Here is a cool infographic that was recently published on the alleged dangers of sitting.  The important takeaway from this infographic, and the article you’re currently reading, is that your posture is not the danger here.  Find a comfortable position or positions for your body while you sit and you’ll be ok. You don’t have to sit like a Victorian era noble posing for a painting.  What you should do is make sure that you identify why sitting is irritating to you and address those issues.

For most people, weakness and mobility deficits exist that will make sitting a little harder than it needs to be, so work on fixing those problems.  If you’re having trouble finding these problems yourself, a physical therapist can help to give you one less worry when it comes to starting school.

Got questions?  Feel limited in what you’re able to do?  The staff at Limitless Physical Therapy in Eugene, OR can show you how to discover your future without limits.

***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice.  Please contact a certified healthcare professional or your primary physician for any personal concerns.