Low back pain is a common complaint among adults who sit at a desk for most of the day. Due to demanding work schedules, it's common to spend all day sitting in a chair.
By the end of the day, many people spend the rest of their time sitting - including dinner, relaxing on the couch, etc. In addition, many people spend hours sitting in a car or on a bus or train during their commute.
All of these add up to a whole lot of sitting. In fact, the average adult sits nearly ten hours¹ on any given day.
Our bodies weren't meant to be seated all day. Sitting too much can reduce muscle and bone strength which are contributing factors for lower back pain.
The guide below will provide everything you need to know about sitting and lower back pain.
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If you have low back pain and want relief, perhaps one of the first things you should consider is your activity levels. Think about your spine as your body's central support pillar. It supports your weight but still gives you flexibility for bending, reaching, and more.
Your spine was built to handle movement throughout the day, but changes to your spine can’t happen when you’re seated all day.
Enough movement helps maintain the flexibility of your spine. Throughout the day, the discs in your vertebrae get compressed, leading to pain. In addition, movement of the spinal joints helps spread your body’s natural lubricant called synovial fluid.
Here are some other dangers² of sitting too long:
Weight gain: time spent sitting takes away time that you could have spent on being active or exercising. In the long run, a sedentary lifestyle will lead to weight gain. Extra mass (particularly around the stomach) can create strain on all parts of the body, including the lower back.
Pinched nerves: when you sit for a long time, it can compress nerves, which can lead to pain, tingling, and numbness in some parts of your body. Over time, compressed nerves may become permanently damaged.
Loss of muscle: standing and moving around is the body's natural state, so your muscles are designed to do just that. When you don't use your muscles, they will start to shrink. Sitting can limit the blood flow to important muscles in your legs, bottom, and hips. Reduced strength from your legs limits their ability to support your weight and can lead to pain.
Poor posture: when you sit, your body may slouch or hunch over in a position that increases stress for your spine, shoulders, or neck.
Fortunately, these issues can be prevented when you sit properly and take regular breaks from sitting to move your body.
If you sit a lot for your job, it can be challenging to change your routine. Establishing healthy lifestyle adjustments means breaking bad habits, which may take some time.
Here are a few tips you can use to reduce low back pain when sitting in a chair:
Use back support. Most people will have a natural arch in their lower back called lumbar lordosis. Try adding lumbar support, like a rolled-up towel, to help limit the pressure onto your back.
Keep your hips and knees at a 90-degree angle. Depending on the height of your chair, you may need a stool or footrest under your feet. Try to avoid sitting with crossed legs, and keep your feet on the floor.
Make sure your computer aligns with your gaze, so you don't have to tilt your head up or down too much.
Get ergonomic office equipment. You can find chairs, desks, keyboard trays, and other specially designed equipment to correct your posture and keep your body in proper alignment.
Get up and move around as often as you can. Try to stand up and walk or stretch a little at least once every hour. At the end of your day, exercise can help to correct your posture and take pressure off certain muscles and joints.
It can be impossible to avoid sitting for at least part of your day but think of the tips above as investments for preventing pain and preserving health.
Choosing the right chair can have a huge impact on your lower back pain. But how do you know what chair is right for you?
Here are some features you should look for when considering a supportive chair for back pain:
Adjustable height - adjust the height of your chair so that your feet can rest firmly on the ground with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
Adjustable armrests - look for a chair with armrests that can be adjusted based on your preference. You want your arms to stay closer to your body, with your shoulders relaxed and your elbows bent at 90 degrees.
Proper seat depth and width - you want plenty of support for your thighs when sitting. Sit as far back in the chair to see the space between the backs of your knees and the chair. It should be about two inches.
Back support - because your spine naturally curves in the lower back area, extra support will protect it from stress and strain. Supportive chairs will have extra padding in this area to make sure that your lumbar region is supported.
Padding - a supportive chair will offer plenty of padding around common pressure point areas. Reducing compression on these areas helps alleviate nerve and joint pain.
Many supportive, ergonomic chairs will be fully adjustable so you can make sure that they fit your measurements. Sometimes, you can even have supportive chairs custom-made for your body. Being in a comfortable chair can become a game-changer if you’re experiencing back pain.
Lower back pain is such a common complaint that some people simply ignore it. Unfortunately, it can start mild but could worsen over time. It can be easy to overlook your pains and aches when you're focused on other aspects of life.
However, it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor about lower back pain if you experience it daily. When managed early, the pain can be quickly diagnosed and remedied before it becomes a bigger issue.
It's also important to understand that not all back pain is caused by sitting for long periods. There could be other triggers for your pain. A doctor can help diagnose the cause of your pain and determine whether it could be related to a more serious condition.
Your doctor can also recommend the best course of action to help you feel better. They may be able to recommend physical therapy exercises, over-the-counter medications, or other effective approaches for lower back pain.
If you're experiencing back pain, don't just resign yourself to living with it for the rest of your life. Seek help and treatment from a doctor, so you can keep doing the things you love without pain.
Lower back pain is a prevalent condition in our society today, and this is likely because many of us lead an inactive lifestyle. When we don't move enough, our bodies stop working in the ways they were designed to. Sitting all day at work and home can put pressure on our spine, compress nerves, and weaken muscles.
It's easy just to tell someone to move around more, but this is easier said than done. If you have to sit as part of your job, it's a good idea to look at ways to reduce your pain while sitting. Make sure you have proper posture, use back support, and get up to move whenever you can.
A good way to reduce lower back pain when sitting is to use a supportive chair. Look for a chair with adjustable parts (i.e., adjustable height, armrests, and depth), plenty of supportive padding, and proper proportions that suit your body shape and size.
While getting a supportive chair and sitting properly can help reduce back pain, it's still important to check in with your doctor. They may help determine exactly what is causing your back pain and how to alleviate it.
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