How the Kinetic Chain Is Affected By Prolonged Sitting

Whether tapping away on a keyboard or answering calls from customers, these periods of prolonged sitting have long been known to impact on our health. According to research carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE):- In 2016/17 over a half a million people suffered from a musculoskeletal disorder that was related to work.

  • There were over 8.9 million days of work lost due to sickness/absence during this period.
  • 45% of workers had problems with the upper limbs and neck while 38% had issues with their back.

To compound this, we have become more sedentary at home as well, with many of us preferring to slouch in front of the TV and veg out rather than do something that involves physical activity.

Poor posture, for instance, means that office workers are likely to develop round shoulders as well as other problems with their musculoskeletal system. Curvature of the spine or kyphosis occurs when the arms are constantly being held forward, putting pressure on muscle groups like the trapezius. As the body tries to balance itself, you can also find conditions such as lordosis, the excessive inward curvature of the spine, which is exacerbated by shortened hip flexors and the anterior pelvic tilt caused by sitting.

What is the Kinetic Chain?

Specialists such as physiotherapists talk about the kinetic chain rather than simple musculoskeletal issues because it refers to how the different components of the body are linked together. Essentially it means that nothing really works in isolation.

When we stand in a normal position, everything in our body is generally in neutral or muscles extended. When we sit, our body is in flexion which means that our front body muscles are shortened while at the back they are extended and tight. This creates an uneven strain which, if we spend a prolonged time in the sitting position, can cause excessive curvature.

The Impact of Prolonged Sitting

While you might notice the strain on your lower back once you get up after sitting for a long time, being in this position can have an impact on many other parts of the body. Pre-existing conditions such a weak core or flat feet will draw on other areas of the body as part of the kinetic chain. 

Excessive pronation or flat feet. You might not think that having flat feet has anything to do with your bad back or sloping shoulders from prolonged sitting. It’s actually a good example of how the kinetic chain works. When your feet are not working to their full potential, the kinetic chain will attempt to compensate for any shortcoming. If you suffer from overpronation, you often find problems with the knees and even the lower back.

Tightened hamstrings. There’s also some evidence that prolonged sitting can cause tightness in the hamstrings. This is an area of the body that is associated with sports men and women, particularly those operating at the very highest levels. Hamstrings tighten through lack of exercise and can quickly become an issue for those with a sedentary lifestyle.

Weak glutes. The gluteal muscle group are found round the back of the upper thigh and buttocks and are used in hip movements that involve extension, abduction and external rotation. Again this shows the impact of the kinetic chain. If you gluteus maximus isn’t performing its job properly, for example, the latissimus dorsi is often used to compensate and this pulls your back and shoulder out of position.

Anterior pelvic tilt. This happens with the forward rotation of the pelvis and has the effect of pushing out the buttocks and pulling the lumbar spine into lordosis. The problem here is that this will impact on areas like abdominal muscles which are stretched. That in turn can then lead to a weakened core. It can also have an impact on the glutes and hamstrings.

Shortened hip flexors. If you are sitting for prolonged periods, there’s little doubt that you will develop shortened hip flexors, the muscles that act in opposition to your glutes. This can mean joints and bones around that area get unequal support which then causes other problems such as pelvic tilt.

Weak core. Most people who regularly exercise know that a strong core is important as it forms the base of many daily activities, not just sport. The core includes a large range of muscles in the stomach as well as those vital hip abductors. Weakness here means that your pelvic area isn’t getting enough support and this causes a number of knock on problems including an increase in pronation.

Shortened chest muscles. The pectoralis minor can easily be shortened through inactivity or poor posture sitting at an office desk. It causes issues for other muscles in the area including the pectoralis major and may be impacted by rounded shoulders and a forward head posture. Allowed to continue it will also have an impact on gait and on breathing patterns.

Extended but tight shoulder and neck muscles. Neck and shoulder tension is probably one of the main complaints of office workers who spend too much time sitting at their desks. The muscles around the mid back and scapular region are important for providing a strong base – it enables you to move your arms and shoulder and also plays a vital role in supporting the neck. For areas such as the serratus anterior and trapezius muscles, weakness causes a wide range of problems.

Lordotic shoulders. Abnormal curvature of the spine can put an enormous amount of stress on the rest of your body, particularly those vital muscle groupings of the back. If there is too much curve or it is running in the wrong direction, sufferers can experience chronic muscle pain and regular spasms.

 Forward head posture. Another common impact of sitting for a prolonged period, especially in the office environment, is the forward head posture. It is generally associated with rounded shoulders and can also be related to increased thoracic kyphosis. The impact on the kinetic chain may stretch right down to the feet as different parts of the body try to compensate for this one isolated issue. Of course, prolonged sitting has other health effects – it often leads to an increase in the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease because of inactivity. The notion of the kinetic chain, however, shows how stress or inequality in one part of the body can have a profound impact on many areas, going beyond the easily recognised strained shoulders or pain in the lower back.