When you have a desk job, you do a lot of sitting in order to earn your paycheck. You're not alone—a 2013 study found that American adults sit an average of 13 hours a day, and that lack of standing and walking can have adverse effects on your health. That includes having weak leg muscles, which can lead to back pain and other painful conditions. If you're a desk jockey, take measures to not only stand up and walk around regularly to get your blood circulating, but also to work your legs outside office hours to build up that weakened leg muscle.
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Lack of Muscle Use
Your muscles must be used in order to maintain strength and flexibility, and spending long hours at your desk can cause muscle fibers to break down. This is known as muscle atrophy and can make your leg muscles weak over time.
Additionally, the added pressure to the muscles on the back of your thighs, known as the hamstrings, can affect blood circulation, also leading to muscle breakdown. You also may notice that your hamstrings feel tight after a long day of sitting at your desk; this can cause them to pull on your lower back and create back pain. Your iliopsoas muscles are those that connect from your thigh bone to your spine. When you sit at your desk for long periods of time, the iliopsoas muscles are in a constant, flexed position. In this position, the muscles are shorter, which can pull on your spine more when you are standing, contributing to back pain and difficulty straightening your leg muscles after long periods of sitting. For this reason, it’s important to take stand-and-stretch breaks throughout your day to keep the iliopsoas muscles from staying in a constant flexed position.
Taking Stretch Breaks
Becoming absorbed in your work can make it difficult for you to take regular stretch breaks throughout the course of your workday. You can set an alarm on your computer or phone to remind you to get up and stretch every hour you are at work. Some stretches include standing up and placing your hands on your lower back, leaning backward and arching your back. You also can circle your shoulders and pull one knee toward your chest at a time to stretch your legs and lower back. Walking up and down a few flights of stairs also can activate your leg muscles.
Fix the Ergonomics
Because you can’t change the fact that you work at a desk, ensure your chair and computer are at the best position to minimize leg muscle pain. Your feet should sit flat on the floor, and your back should be able to touch the back of your chair so the chair cushions your back. The seat of your chair should not dig into the backs of your legs, which can affect leg muscle circulation.
If you have the opportunity, ask your office manager or human resources professional if you can switch to an ergonomically friendly chair or bring in an exercise ball to sit on. Additionally, standing desks, including those that slide up and down, have become much more financially feasible.
Outside the Office
When you're not sitting at your desk, schedule regular strength exercises to build your leg muscle and reverse the effects of lack of movement. You don't need fancy weights or a gym; simply do regular bodyweight exercises, such as: