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Creep – A Health Lesson you Don’t Want to Miss


Let’s be honest, when you hear the word creep, you aren’t thinking of mechanical term associations like “cold flow”. After this important subject investigation on creep loading, I hope you will think in mechanical terms for the welfare of your life. Creep is creeping up in the lives of all Americans in the last few decades, and is getting worse. Death, pain and injury are an impending consequence, therefore we need to take an in-depth look. In materials science, creep (sometimes called “cold flow”) is the tendency of a solid material to move slowly or deform permanently under the influence of mechanical stresses.  Creep is the capacity of fascia and other tissue to lengthen when subjected to a constant tension load resulting in less resistance to a second load application. A progressive deformation occurs over time. So what does this have to do with you and I specifically and how can we prevent this insidious problem from “creeping” up in our lives?


I recently presented to safety managers in Twin Falls, Idaho regarding the dangers of sustained stresses (like sitting too long) and repetitive loads (like twisting and bending to move boxes during a translocation of your house). Creep was the main subject and we utilized a simple object lesson to prove a point. Human tissues under a low load over sustained periods of time will deform permanently if not changed to reverse the load or relieve it. You can practice this simple test yourself. First, gently pull your index finger backward until you feel a gentle stretch. Second, hold it there and set your timer for how long it takes to feel the deformity take place (you will begin to feel pain instead of a stretch). Most of us would admit it only takes a matter of minutes before feeling the onset of that deformation of tissues. Third, flex your finger forward once you feel that discomfort set in and notice how good the finger feels from such a movement. Our spines, hips and lower extremities are prone to this tissue change from prolonged positions.  What is more, our lives are more prone to quickened death as a result of sitting too long.


A recent post from Eric Beard highlights some specific studies relating these major concerns.  “The dangers of sitting have been highlighted over the past few years much to the delight of fitness professionals, movement therapists and the like.  Over a lifetime, the unhealthful effects of sitting add up. Alpa Patel, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, tracked the health of 123,000 Americans between 1992 and 2006. The men in the study who spent six hours or more per day of their leisure time sitting had an overall death rate that was about 20 percent higher than the men who sat for three hours or less. The death rate for women who sat for more than sixhours a day was about 40 percent higher. Patel estimates that on average, people who sit too much shave a few years off of their lives.”- courtesy of this NY Times article.

The M.E.C.A. Institute also chimes in via literature for this discussion.

“Static flexion of the lumbar spine with constant load applied to the viscoelastic structures for 20 minutes and for 50 minutes resulted in development of spasms and inhibition in the multifidus muscles (e.g., deep erector spinae) and in creep of the supraspinous ligament in the feline model. The development of spasms and inhibition was not dependent on load magnitude. It is suggested that occupational and sports activities which require prolonged static lumbar flexion within the physiological range can cause a “sprain”-like injury to the ligaments, which in turn reflexively induce spasms and inhibition in some erector spinae muscles. Such disorder may take a long time to recover, in the order of days to weeks, depending on the level of creep developed in the tissues.”

What is the take home point then?  If we spend prolonged amounts of time in a seated position, we will be more prone to injury. Resultantly, muscle imbalances develop and robust threats ensue like adaptations occurring on even deeper levels.


So what do we do about all this? Get up and move every 20 minutes or so. Get out of the chair and walk, stretch appropriately with exercises like downward dog or tai chi routines.  Bust out your favorite Britney Spears song and show your office your best specially reserved dance moves.  Our WorkWright Division has a set of 10 exercises we give as a generic set of good low end movement exercises and is available at request at livewright@wrightpt.com. See your Doctor of physical therapy to assist you with more in depth needs.  Whatever your mode of movement is, remember to just move!