Total Therapy Blog
Surviving the Series – the Armchair Warrior’s Guide
It’s almost June, but most of us are still buzzing about a winter sport – hockey. Not just any hockey, playoff hockey. Canucks playoff hockey. The Canucks’ deep run into playoff territory has the whole province in a Stanley Cup fever, with each game drawing millions of viewers. If you’re a die-hard fan, you’ve already spent approximately 45-50 hours in front of the TV watching the games. Believe it or not, all that sitting can take a toll on your body (and we’re not talking waistline here).
Sitting puts your spine in flexion, or a “bent” position. This generally isn’t a problem, unless you’ve already spent your day sitting at the office, sitting in a car to drive home, and then move onto sitting through three periods of hockey (plus overtime) at home. Why is sitting for prolonged periods bad for your back? In order to answer that question, we have to talk about tissue loading principles.
Injury can happen via two basic mechanisms: a) large amounts of force over a short period of time; b) small amounts of force over a long period of time. Sitting for a hockey game falls into the latter category. When you sit, you unbalance the load on your spine. Pressure is put through the anterior (or front part) of your vertebral discs, pushing the disc’s gel-like material posteriorly (or back). This stresses the fibrous sheath of the disc, stretching it out. Picture a jelly doughnut – if you pinch it at one side, the jelly filling pushes out the opposite side. If this continues over time, the area where the gel is pushing up against becomes weaker, leaving it prone to failure. In serious cases, this leads to a herniated disc.
Sitting also stresses the ligaments running down the posterior aspect of your spine. These ligaments act like guy-wires (picture a fishing rod being held upright by wires), and are tensioned just enough so that the spine remains in a neutral position. If one of those wires (or ligaments) becomes too stretched, this support system becomes unbalanced, and the spine loses some of its stability. This leaves the spine more vulnerable to injury.
So what’s an armchair athlete to do? The trick is to vary your position, such that the spine is not stressed in the same direction for long periods of time.
Shift in your seat.
Contrary to what we’ve been told for years, there is no “perfect” sitting posture, and you’re actually better off shifting around in your seat rather than maintaining an upright position (caveat: if you have an acute back injury, there may be positions your healthcare practitioner recommends you avoid). So go ahead, put your feet up on the coffee table. You can say you’re taking care of your back.
If you’re spending a lot of time on the couch, try to balance that with an equal amount of time off the couch. Stand up for a power play, walk to the kitchen during the intermissions – find reasons to get up and standing. This helps redirect the force going through the spine, taking stress off the posterior ligaments, and removing pressure from the anterior aspect of the vertebral discs.
Reach for the sky.
Going back to our tissue loading principle, if sitting loads the spine in one direction, loading the spine in the opposite direction can help “reset” the back. Think of it this way – if you pinch a jelly doughnut on one side, and the jelly squishes to one side, to move the jelly back, you’d pinch the doughnut on the opposite side. From an anatomical standpoint, this means moving from flexion (sitting) to extension. An easy way to do this is to stand and reach for the sky. Raise your arms above you and gently extend towards the ceiling. You’ll put your spine into a slight amount of extension, directing the disc material from posterior to anterior, and stressing the anterior ligaments instead of posterior ligaments. Hold this for a few breaths, then relax.
There it is – your fan survival guide. We’re being a bit tongue-in-cheek here, but in truth, back pain affects 4 out of 5 Canadians. For the majority of us, that back pain won’t necessarily be because of a single, traumatic injury, but because of long periods of low-level strain. So, whether you’re watching the game at home, or at a pub, keep in mind these simple tips. With a few tweaks to your playoff technique, you can ensure that your back lasts at least as long as the Canucks’ playoff run.