Working at a desk and interacting with smart phones easily adds up to more than 300 hours of sitting per year. This figure does not include drive time for work or leisure.
Seated posture in any form will eventually produce physical leg pain. The longer we remain seated and unmoving, the more widespread and unnerving our pain may become.
The root of the problem lies in the fact that our bodies are suited to take pleasure in active motion during the day.
What Causes Leg Pain When Sitting
Sitting in one position over the course of a day presents an uphill battle for our back and core muscles. We lose active trunk support when focusing on the tasks at hand. This results in a slouching posture, which curves our lumbar spine against the chair, and rotates our pelvis backward.
The Ischium, or ‘sit bone’ of the pelvis, presses down against the Sciatic Nerve, leading to awkward sensory overload in the legs. We begin to feel sensations of physical pain, irritability, and fatigue.
Causes of Leg Pain & Stiffness After Sitting
Stiffness literally equates to rigidity of the tissues in the legs. While we are moving, fluid and metabolic exchanges occur through circulation. Our muscles act as pumps to move fluid up and down the vertical body.
This principle applies to soft tissues such as ligaments, tendons, muscles, arteries, and veins. Leg muscles in particular, operate more comfortably and effectively when they are relatively warm and flexible.
Unfortunately, a day at the desk or driving prohibits the soft tissues in our legs and back from this natural process, and they become cold, firm, and relatively dry. When we finally do get up from the chair, sensations of discomfort bombard our hips, knees, and even our feet.
We may feel pain, stiffness, and a general lack of coordination. This response is clinically known as ‘guarding,’ and is a subconscious physiological reaction.
Causes of Leg Pain From Driving
Of all sitting postures, driving has to be one of the roughest. We often plan our road trips based on the amount of time we are required to spend sitting in an awkward position.
We place ourselves up against corners, windows, and seat nooks to establish a semblance of a recliner. We utilize fuel stops to stretch our legs. By the time we arrive at our destination, we feel worn from the road, and the last thing we want to do is sit back down.
Driving, more than any other seated position, requires us to focus our attention away from our posture, as we must focus on traffic and personal safety. Without an appropriate support, driving posture is very poor. We operate floor pedals with our ankles, and permit our legs to ache and solidify.
7 Tips to Avoid Leg Pain When Sitting All Day
Relentless leg pain from sitting, can put a true damper on an otherwise good day. It may seem daunting to deal with foreboding sensations of ‘chair time.’ Do remember; we can always change our positions and situations.
Breaking down sitting periods into manageable bits is one of the simplest and most effective ways to avoid leg pain and stiffness.
Below are a few simple ideas to break up sitting periods and enhance personal wellness.
1) Make a point to exercise gently before and after time spent sitting.
While carving time out to go to the gym may currently feel beyond our reach, small increments spent focusing on movement can make a world of difference. Think of the exercise as a moment to unwind from the chair.
Stretching, walking, or dancing can have significant positive physiological effects. Physical activity promotes fluid flow and induces endorphin release, which diminish pain and stiffness, and provide immediate sensations of enhanced health.
2) Drink water from a personal container.
Preparing and filling a personal water container is a powerful commitment to wellbeing. Whether on the road or at a desk, keeping a water bottle visible reminds us to take personal inventory of our bodies.
Drinking water during breaks or in between personal tasks revitalizes and brings us back to awareness of the present moment.
3) Listen to upbeat music.
Music is physiologically and mentally engaging. It is nearly impossible to resist the urge to tap our feet and sway to the sounds of a good song. If your sitting space allows, incorporate a personal radio station, playlist, or streaming service within earshot. You will become more animated and prone to get up during the day.
4) Keep personal objects out of arms reach.
If you want to limit your sitting time at a desk, look no further than your smart phone. By placing the phone out of arm’s reach, you force your body to move more frequently.
5) Plan specific intentional break activities.
Whether clocking out or pulling over, break times provide joyful moments to reset and recharge our bodies. Utilizing a 15 or 30-minute break to stretch, meditate, or walk leads us back to the joy of movement.
If you prefer to walk, identify the specific path you will take, and consider a separate pair of comfortable shoes to enjoy the journey. If you plan to stretch or meditate, seek out a nearby location you consider to be a sanctuary, away from the office or the car.
After completing the first activity, enjoy and repeat as often as possible.
6) Avoid saturated carbohydrates at lunch.
Eating a heavy meal before sitting down or driving can lead to sensations of fatigue, making it hard to maintain a schedule of mobility during the day. It is very rare that human bodies are able to burn all the calories we consume at lunch.
Think of lunch to be a bridge to dinner. Holding out for a delicious meal at home will keep you light on your feet, and make it easier to keep up with the disciplined task of moving more.
7) Consider alternative chairs.
One of the most progressive methods to avoid leg pain from sitting is to either reduce or eliminate the chair in the traditional sense. Alternatives such as orthopedic pads or exercise balls promote active core engagement by engaging leg and trunk musculature.
Others do away with the chair altogether, and utilize a standing desk. These practices may appear intense, but in practice are very therapeutic.
Sitting on an unconventional chair promotes contraction of hip and feet muscles, both of which are sensory centers of the body. By including these muscle groups during the day, we receive endorphins while we work.
Begin by trying a ball chair at home. Sit on the ball while watching television, eating dinner, or visiting with family or friends.
Once you feel comfortable and safe, you can incorporate your alternative chair by planning to use it during a specific time and duration while at work. Focus on a small segment of time that is likely to be less busy, such as the last 20 minutes of the shift.
You may need to rearrange some of your workspace to accommodate your improved posture. You may begin to expand the periods and frequency of non-traditional chair use.
Consider using it twice per day for 1-hour periods, or until you feel the need to return to a passive traditional chair. Any amount of time spent working from a ball chair will pay excelled dividends in terms of preventing pain and stiffness in your legs.