Couch Potatoes Hurting More Than The Couch!

If you like to fall asleep sitting in your recliner with the TV on after a hectic workday staring at a computer monitor, you might be hurting yourself more than you think. Maybe even a lot more...

Scientists have found people who slump in front of their TVs or computer monitors could deactivate muscles that support and protect their spines, triggering many otherwise inexplicable cases of lower back pain, according to a German study that monitored a group of young men who spent eight weeks in bed.

The big surprise: Researchers found an absence of load on spinal support muscles can sometimes be just as debilitating as a physical injury.

Ultrasound studies have shown that in most cases of lower-back pain, either the lumbar multifidus muscles, which keep the vertebrae in place, or the transversus abdominis, which holds the pelvis together, or both, are inactive. Normally the muscles work continuously to support and protect the lower back.

Heavy lifting, whiplash or other injuries can damage and inactivate these support muscles too. This increases the risk of long-term back pain, as people are then more likely to suffer sprains, or damage to the discs or other tissue in the back. However, only between 10 and 15 percent of back pain cases begin with such an injury.

A similar study conducted in Australia found the support muscles of the bed-rest volunteers were inactivated in a very similar way to those of lower-back pain patients. Using magnetic resonance imaging, they showed that after eight weeks, the multifidus muscles of all 19 young male volunteers in the bed-rest study had wasted and become inactive.

New Scientist August 25, 2004

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