As runners I am sure we would all rather be out running than sitting down! However what is not generally appreciated is that sitting down for too long can be positively bad for our running performance! Our bodies were simply not “designed” to sit for long periods. But what makes sitting such a bad thing and how can it impact your running? Let’s start by taking a closer look at our spines.
The spine has 4 curvatures,2 lordosis (neck and lower back) and 2 kyphosis (thorax and sacrum). It normally has 24 vertebrae and between them there are discs which have “jelly” middle. The reason why it has 4 curvatures and “jelly” discs is because the spine works as a spring and one of the spine’s primary functions is to absorb impacts and our weight whilst we are in the vertical position. When you are sitting down the spine “loses” some curvatures and increases others, so the ability to absorb impacts and weight decreases so your body has to rely on the muscles to help deal with this. Although some of the muscles are there to help the spine deal with the weight and impact it is not their primarily function so they end up getting tighter because of overwork. Now our brain is really rather clever and it will automatically make some changes to ensure that your body can endure the sitting position without too much effort.
This means that it will change the spine’s shape to endure the sitting. Good for sitting, bad for running! So if you spend 6 to 8 hours a day in the sitting position your spine and muscles around it will have to “change” in order to help the spine which will make them stay contracted. In addition, because your spine is not in its original, natural shape it will start to deteriorate because it cannot cope with the weight as it should. Running after a day in the office needs preparation! So what happens when you go out running after a day sitting in the office? When you go from a sitting position to walking or running, your body will have adapted to the sitting position and will not be ready to start the running movement. Your brain understands movement not muscles which means that you will be doing the movement but you will probably be recruiting the wrong muscles or using them in the wrong stages of movement. This may lead to wrong mechanical patterns of movement that can lead to injuries. Running is a global movement and requires the body to be prepared and your spine needs to be correctly aligned to absorb the impact every time you hit the ground. Feet impact from running is usually 3 to 4 times higher than when you walk which combined with the fact that your spine does not have its original shape and your muscles are not working properly can lead to trouble. Poor shock absorption will often lead to back problems and resultant pain. So what should you do if you spend long periods sitting and then want to go for a run? Firstly before running you should warm up, preparing your muscles for the activity you are about to start. Activate not only the leg muscles but also your back muscles and at the end of the activity, stretch your legs and back to make sure your muscles maintain their original length. Also you should drink plenty of water before, during and especially after running and do not forget that your muscles are 70% water so they will need it back once your exercise is done. Also add some foam rolling to your training, not only for your ITB but quads, hamstrings, calves and gluts as well. You should also consider having a gait analysis carried out so that all the factors including your posture can be taken into consideration. This will enable a skilled therapist to understand your spine position, how you strike with the foot, the effect of your running shoes, stride length, what is the spine position and how and which muscles are working and how your body absorbs the impact. Through video gait analysis we can get a detailed view of all these factors and can address them directly in order to help you with your running so that you can prevent injuries rather than just dealing with them afterwards! Finally, if you have a job which requires lengthy period of sitting, you should stand up at least every hour and walk around, do some stretching and move your back.
Senior Physiotherapist, BSc MHCPC MCSP MAACP