Sitting with Back Pain

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Daveybot/flickr.com

Stephanie Camillo,
Washington, D.C.

If you’re one of those people whose day job means you have to sit down for long periods of time – your desk is like a second home or that spot on the airplane or train is a regular part of your commute – then you’ve most likely experienced back pain at one time or another.  However, not all seated back pain is work-related.  Most of us have felt the sharp twinges or dull aches that come after several hours in uncomfortable stadium seats or long car trips to visit family.

Sitting for long periods of time will create muscle imbalances in your hips and gluteus muscles.  These muscle imbalances in conjunction with the increased tension of maintaining a static position can pinch nerves, increase stiffness, and strain muscles and tendons.

But, you don’t have to stand for this – literally.  You can stay seated and still take care of your back.  Just try some of these tricks to find a little seated relief:

Equipment makes all the difference.

You don’t have to know much about ergonomics to make sitting as easy on your body as possible.  At the office, make sure you’ve got a chair that supports your tailbone and leans back slightly—you don’t actually want to be sitting at a 90 degree angle.  Make sure there’s support for your lower back and that you can face your work station without awkward twisting and turning.  Also, if you’re prone to neck pain, a headrest will help.  On the road or at the ball park, consider investing in a portable cushion to reduce the tension in your back or try rolling up an extra shirt or towel to support the arch in your spine and help your back relax into a gentle lean.

Stretches to avoid stiffness.

Make like a kid and wiggle.  Stretches will improve blood flow, circulations, and help your muscles relax, even if you’re not entirely sure they’ve tensed up.  You might feel a little strange at first but it don’t let that stop you.  With the exception of raised arms blocking the screen, this is a good thing to do in a movie theater or concert where getting up isn’t an option.

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Pretty posture.

Bad posture is pain. Keep your arms and shoulders down your back to avoid neck tension and your tailbone slightly tucked under your pelvis (instead of sticking way out) to support your spine.

Get your move on.

Even if it’s just to stand up, walk around for a  minute, and sit back down, a little walking goes a long way.  Don’t use the drive-through on car trips and force yourself to take lunch breaks away from your desk.

Stay awake.

When we get tired, we have a tendency to slouch and lose the integrity of our posture.  The more sitting you do while tired or exhausted the more your back will suffer in an effort to keep you upright.  If you feel yourself waning, try a healthy energy boost or some awakening stretches to help re-energize your mind and body.

Core strength.

While it’s not necessary to do 100 crunches a day, strengthening your core will make it easier for you to maintain good posture.  When the muscles of your core are strong, they can stay engaged longer and provide more support to your spine.  Spending just minutes a day working your abdominal muscles will go a long way.

Back-focused exercise.

If you suffer from chronic back pain as a result of your day job, it’s important to incorporate some back strengthening exercises into your general exercise routine.  This can be just another 5-10 minutes of strengthening moves.  The improved muscle tone will help you in the office and result in less pain over time.

 

 

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Relax.

Are your lights so bright that they’re giving you a headache?  Is there background music that’s too loud?  When possible, try to control your environment so that your body can relax.  Earplugs are a great way to avoid blaring noise at stadiums and concerts; calming music can counteract commuting tension; and glasses will cure a straining neck.  When we set up an environment where we feel comfortable, our bodies naturally relax.  A relaxed back is a happier one.

Don’t stress out.

When we get stressed out bodies tense and stiffen.  We often hold that tension in our shoulders and upper back.  Compensating for that pain can then radiate down our backs and even into the back of our legs.  There’s no shortage of research that shows how much of an impact stress has on our overall health—so try to keep your body relaxed even when your mind is going a million miles a minute.

On your knees.

You’ve probably seen the ergonomic chairs designed for you to kneel on.  Go ahead and try one out.  Kneeling chairs help to improve your overall posture, redistribute your weight, and improve alignment.

It would be great if we could sit in a hot tub or gentle hammock seat all day.  But in the absence of blissful seating, we have to work with what we’ve got.   Whether it’s a brand new office chair or just a lap around the car every 50 miles,  you can do things to make taking a seat as good as it sounds.

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Jill Lohmann is a Director of Operations for Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers and a certified physical therapist. Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers is a physical therapist owned and operated rehabilitation company with a network of 170 outpatient rehabilitation centers located throughout the Midwest, Arizona and Georgia.

3 Comments

  1. RickPT 7 years ago

    There are many myths floating around out there regarding back pain. To truly understand what is at the root of your back pain try this simple test. Lie down on your back for 30 seconds with legs extended out, resting on the floor. Now bend your knees so the feet are sitting flat on the floor near your behind for 30 seconds. Which one feels better? If your back pain diminishes with knees bent then your spine has excessive extension stress acting on it. There are simple exercises to correct this. If your spine felt better with legs extended then you have excessive flexion stress acting on your spine. Again this is easily correctable.
    Chronic pain results from a cycle of issues. Anatomical problems feed biomechanical issues which then affect movement habits that reinforce the original anatomical and biomechanical problems. Fixing back pain requires attention to all three levels. It's quite simple to correct though.
    Good luck and thank you for your article.

  2. RickPT 7 years ago

    There are many myths floating around out there regarding back pain. To truly understand what is at the root of your back pain try this simple test. Lie down on your back for 30 seconds with legs extended out, resting on the floor. Now bend your knees so the feet are sitting flat on the floor near your behind for 30 seconds. Which one feels better? If your back pain diminishes with knees bent then your spine has excessive extension stress acting on it. There are simple exercises to correct this. If your spine felt better with legs extended then you have excessive flexion stress acting on your spine. Again this is easily correctable.
    Chronic pain results from a cycle of issues. Anatomical problems feed biomechanical issues which then affect movement habits that reinforce the original anatomical and biomechanical problems. Fixing back pain requires attention to all three levels. It's quite simple to correct though.
    Good luck and thank you for your article.

  3. James 6 years ago

    It is important to take care of your back and neck since back pain can make your life intolerable. Back pain can completely interrupt your life, so prevention is key. Posture and good ergonomics as well as strengthening your back through exercise are all excellent ways to prevent back pain in the first place.

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