So, is sitting dangerous?
In the world of work, sitting down is often described as ‘dangerous’. Well, what is this ‘danger’. The Daily Mirror warns us that it’s the new smoking (see here). And the ergonomic industry warns us that it will cause back and neck pain (see here).
Well, I hate to spoil a good story, but while there have been studies showing that sitting for long periods have been associated with heart problems, diabetes and an early death (see here), it’s difficulty to pull out cause from studies like this. For instance, it may be that people who sit more also eat more snacks, have poorer mental health, less wealthy etc—so finding the cause is difficult. And then there is studies like this one (here) that showed sitting time was not associated with early death, so there you go, the evidence is at best, conflicting.
And as for sitting and pain, rest easy, sit however you feel comfortable. There is no evidence that sitting in any particular posture leads to back or neck pain. And interestingly, there is no evidence that adjusting your desk workplace or chair helps treat or prevent back and neck pain (see here and here).
In clinic, we often see people with preconceived ideas about sitting and posture. They feel that they have to sit ‘correct’ and ‘straight’, and if they don’t they are putting their bodies in ‘danger’. Ironically, they often need to relax their posture to get symptom improvement, but don’t due to the rules they have been told about sitting. Trying to sell sitting as dangerous to people in pain is not helpful.
Does that mean I recommend sitting a day, of course not. Variation in positions is sensible, and exercise is one of the best predictors of health (see here). But I’m not a fan of selling sickness, especially to people in pain. So it’s perfectly fine to relax, including you posture, and sit from time to time. And next next time someone tries to sell you a magic chair (for a magic price) that ‘cures’ back pain, be wary.