While runners tend to live a more active lifestyle, there’s one thing that continues to cause them injuries: prolonged sitting. Known to have other negative affects on health, like fat accumulation around the heart, cancer and even premature death, sitting also leads to muscle imbalances—some muscles become very tight while others become weak.
According to Douglas Wisoff, a physical therapist who owns coaching service Radiant Running, the main problem for runners stemming from prolonged sitting is tight hip flexors. Wisoff says there’s already a tendency for people to have tight flexors, possibly due to years of sitting in front of computer screens—an unavoidable problem in modern times.
“When you’re sitting a lot, you don’t move around a lot, your muscles tend to get tight, and then when you go to run, they have to loosen back out again,” Wisoff says. “People will go into an activity like running with a lot more tightness in their body from prolonged sitting.”
Since most of us spend a disproportionate amount of time in flexion-dominated positions, muscles in the front of the body end up tight and short while muscles on the back side of the body become stretched out and weak. These imbalances can lead to several painful conditions. Some examples are:
IT Band Syndrome (Iliotibial Band Syndrome)
Weak butt muscles and outer hip muscles due to these imbalances can cause instability in the hips, knees and pelvis, leading to IT Band Syndrome. The iliotibial band is a thick band of fascia on the outside of the knee and is important for stabilizing the knee during running. Symptoms of the syndrome include a stinging sensation above the knee joint, swelling of the tissue where the IT band moves over the femur and sometimes pain below the knee.
Weak Abdominal Muscles
According to Wisoff, when the hip flexors are tight, the core isn’t as mobile, causing people to move more with their leg muscles instead of their core muscles. “When you’re sitting at a desk and your muscles are still, everything is held tight and falls out of alignment,” he says. Weak abdominal muscles can lead to posture problems by allowing the pelvis to tilt downward in front while running. This can lead to lower back pain and, in some cases, tendinitis of the hip flexors.
Seasoned runners know how important posture is for their performance, but sitting too much can lead to misalignment. Tight hip flexors lead to a pelvic tilt, which affects skeletal alignment. The lumbar spine becomes arched, and the thoracic spine develops a rounded back alignment. To avoid this problem, it’s important to practice correct sitting posture. By keeping your computer monitor at eye level, avoiding slouching and engaging your abs, you can help alleviate muscle imbalances.
What You Can Do About It
You can take precautions to protect yourself against injuries. Wisoff says to “be conscious of what you’re doing when you’re sitting,” to get up from your chair every hour or so and stretch regularly. If you’re one of the lucky ones with an active job and minimal chair time, we envy you, but if you’re like most of us who can’t avoid long sedentary bouts during the day, it's worth the exta effort to ward off painful conditions, and keep running smoothly.