Your sofa and the way you sit on it may be causing or worsening your lower back pain. It might even have led you to develop sciatica, a painful spinal condition.
Find out how to sit on your sofa with good posture to prevent and ease lower back pain, plus how to choose a sofa that provides enough back support.
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Significant back pain can occur when you sit for prolonged periods¹, particularly with an awkward posture. Poor posture can put increased stress on your back, pressure on your spine, and tension through your back muscles.
The spine is your body’s central support — it’s rigid enough to support your trunk and flexible enough to help you move. Your spine is designed to move freely, rather than being locked in the same position the whole day. Lifestyle habits like sitting for prolonged periods (for example, at your work desk), can put stress and pressure on your spine, leading to lower back pain or sciatica.
Sitting for a long time means your body isn’t moving as much as it should, but it needs to move regularly to stay healthy and pliable. It can also lead to passive loading², meaning your spine is bearing your body weight instead of your muscles. This can lead to back pain.
Sitting with bad posture for long periods, particularly on an unsupportive sofa, can worsen your lower back pain.
Sitting on a sofa with good posture is quite simple — you just need to check the alignment of your body and keep your legs in the right position.
1. Check body alignment
It might be tempting to curl up on the sofa in a way that makes you comfy, but you should be mindful of the position you’re sitting in. Start by standing in front of your sofa and push your bottom towards the edge of the backrest. Once you're in a sitting position, make sure your back is upright rather than hunched over.
Lean back on the backrest with relaxed shoulders and don’t keep your neck in an uncomfortable position. If you plan on sitting on your sofa for a long time, consider putting something behind your back for support, like a rolled-up towel or small pillow. Avoid leaving the couch cushions spread over the area you’re sitting in, as this can encourage you to sit in an awkward position.
2. Keep your knees and hips at a good angle
You should also maintain a good posture in your lower body. You might not be supported enough if your feet are crossed and not flat on the ground. Ensure your knees and hips are positioned at a 90-degree angle, not twisted, as this can cause asymmetrical strain.
Placing your feet flat on the ground and supporting your back with cushions is the best way to prevent lower back pain.
Your body is perfectly aligned when your hips are facing forward and your head is in line with your spine and shoulders. However, the longer you sit in the same position, the more at risk you are from developing lower back pain — it’s not enough to sit with good posture. To avoid lower back pain, get up and walk around every once in a while. This helps reduce the time you spend sitting and prevents you from sitting in an awkward position for too long.
You might get sciatica when your sciatic nerve (a nerve that runs from your lower back to your feet) is irritated or compressed. The condition can cause shooting pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness in your toes, feet, bottom, and the backs of your legs.
The way you sit on the couch can reduce sciatica pain. Here are some tips to help you:
1. Keep your lower back supported
Sit up against the backrest to help you maintain a good spinal position. Lumbar support or rolled-up towel can provide support and help ease your pain.
2. Place your feet on the floor
Sitting with your feet flat on the floor helps reduce pressure on your hips and back and prevents you from crossing your legs which can create unnecessary pressure on the grounded leg.
3. Sit on both sides evenly
People tend to sit and lean on one side of the couch armrest, but putting stress on one side of the body can cause imbalances and stiffness. Instead, try to switch sides every once in a while to ease pressure on your sciatic nerve and reduce pain.
Buy a sofa that supports your back and helps you avoid lower back pain. Consider the following qualities:
Designs and styles
Some sofas are more specialized than others — for example, some have back support and adjustable features.
Characteristics of a supportive couch include:
1. A Strong Frame
Choose a couch with a strong frame that’s built to last. Hard-wood or solid steel frames are best.
2. Dense cushioning
High-density cushions offer a little give, prevent sinking, and add a layer of firm support to your couch. You could also look for a couch with medium-firm memory cushions which encourage good posture and mold to your body shape to support your back.
3. Choose a sofa that supports your weight
Your couch should be made of dense, sturdy, quality materials to prevent it from sagging quickly. Trial the sofa you want to buy and opt for a new one is possible as sturdiness reduces over time.
It will be difficult to maintain a good posture if the cushions on your couch keep slipping. These items could help stop your sofa cushions from slipping:
1. Non-slip cushion pad
Place an anti-slip cushion pad between the cushion and couch to provide a strong grip without velcro or glue.
2. Non-slip fabric
You can sew pieces of non-slip fabric such as cotton or felt onto the couch and cushion. This should provide enough friction to prevent slipping.
3. Rubber pads
These have an adhesive back and are non-slip. They're fairly cheap and simple to install or remove. Using adhesive, attach a pad to each corner of the cushion on one side. The pad's rubber side provides enough friction to stop the cushions from moving.
If you also experience any of the symptoms below, see a doctor right away.
Fever or chills
Severe abdominal or chest pain
Losing control of urine or stool
Loss of sensation in your groin area or legs
Light-headedness, dizziness, or fainting
General body weakness or feeling numb
Severe coughing or coughing up blood
Pain in one or both arms
If your lower back pain was caused by an accident, like a sports injury or fall, see your doctor to have it checked out.
Inactivity and sitting in the same position for a long time are harmful to your back. Try to stand up and walk or stretch every once in a while to prevent back pain and keep your ligaments, joints, tendons, and muscles healthy.
Choosing the right sofa and sitting on it properly can help prevent and reduce lower back pain. It’s not just about being comfy — try to pay attention to your posture, position, and alignment.
See your doctor if your lower back pain worsens over time or if your pain is severe. Seek medical attention right away if you have any of the additional symptoms listed above, such as fever, numbness, or difficulty breathing.