Research estimates 70% of us will experience low back pain in our lives, but really, that must be too low. Who hasn’t felt low back pain? Back pain can show up any time, but you may have noticed the weird phenomenon of increased low back pain when sitting. We sit to rest, so you may be thinking “Why does my back hurt sitting?”
Back Pain Worse on Sitting?
Just like with candy, there can be too much of a good thing. While sitting allows us to rest, we often sit too much. In fact, many of us are experiencing what’s called “Sitting Disease” which can mean sitting for 10 or more hours a day.
While 10 hours can seem like a high number at first, don’t forget to include all the time at work, eating, reading, watching TV, and scrolling on your phone. That time adds up quickly!
What is the Cause of Back Pain?
Muscle weakness can be a major cause of low back pain because our spine isn’t fully supported. In fact, one of the major reasons you may feel more pain in sitting is because your muscles are relaxed.
Muscles have to be engaged when you’re standing and muscle engagement = more support for your spine. So when we relax on the couch we immediately decrease muscle engagement = more pain.
Movement is Important for Back Pain
You may be thinking, “I might sit a lot during the day but at least I run/walk/bike regularly.” But here’s the thing, while activity is always encouraged you can’t overcome 23 ½ hours of being sedentary with just a ½ hour of activity.
Think of it like eating a whole bag of candy and following that up with a piece of broccoli. The broccoli is still great, but it can’t take away all the sugar.
Tips for Reduce Risk for Sitting Disease and to Help with Low Back Pain:
- Try to move or stand 10 minutes every hour.
- Try to use a standing desk vs a typical sitting desk to limit time sitting for work or at the computer.
- Get active! If you’re not already trying to move at least 30 minutes a day, try adding in walking or a new activity. If you have a lot of joint pain, swimming or an aquatic exercise class may be a great way to start moving.
- Try finding small opportunities to move more if your body is able to tolerate more movement. Try taking the stairs vs the elevator or parking a little further back in the parking lot to walk more.
- Try out a fitness tracker and count your steps. Try for 10,000 steps each day, or, if you’re starting from a lower step number, set goals to gradually increase your number of steps.
Back Pain and Posture
Not only is the simple act of sitting putting you at risk for back pain, but we encourage you to also think about your posture when sitting. Let’s face it, couches are comfy, but they don’t tend to have much support.
We often sink into the couch which impacts our posture, spinal alignment and muscle engagement which can easily increase back pain.
Couches aren’t the only culprit. Even if you’re sitting in a supportive chair, you still have to be aware of your posture. We often end up contorting into different slouched positions when we watch TV, scroll on our phone, read, etc.
Even the most supportive chair/couch can’t stop low back pain if you’re out of good posture and sitting for long periods of time.
Tips for Sitting with Better Posture to Reduce Back Pain:
- Sit with both feet on floor (no crossing legs)
- Sit so that your hips are level with your knees. If you’re on the shorter side, you may need a stool to elevate your feet so you’re in alignment. If you’re on the taller side, you may need a cushion to elevate your hips so you’re in alignment.
- Sit with your ears over your shoulder, and your shoulders over your hips with nice tall posture.
Exercise for Back Pain and Posture Correction
Here are three exercises to help with posture and low back pain when sitting:
- Sit or stand upright and look straight ahead with the ears directly over the shoulders. Think of a string pulling from the base of your spine, through the crown of your head, and finally to the ceiling.
- Place a finger on the chin. Without moving the finger, pull the chin and head straight back — as if another string is pulling the back of your head to the wall behind you — until a good stretch is felt at the base of the head and top of the neck. Hold for 5 seconds if possible.
- Bring the chin forward again to meet the finger where you left it.
- Start by sitting in a sturdy chair.
- Sit up tall with good posture — ears above shoulders, shoulders above hips.
- Draw your shoulder blades down and back. You will feel your chest stretch and open and your back muscles engage.
- In a rigid chair, sit all the way back in a comfortable, tall posture. Take a deep inhale and let your belly expand.
- On a short exhale, push your lower back flat into the chair while only feeling your pelvis tilt backwards. No other body part should move. This is called a posterior tilt.
- With a controlled movement, return to the center, inhale and begin again.
Research may say that 70% of us will experience low back pain, but that doesn’t mean the pain has to be permanent.
Try our tips on being more active and sitting with better posture and see if that helps improve your low back pain while sitting.