Healthy Back Tips

April 2007

Strategies for Low Back Pain While Sitting

Nowadays most people work from a seated position. Commuting to work may add another hour of sitting to one's day. Even our leisure time activities often involve sitting. Consequently, many people spend 6 to 10 hours sitting each day.

Being immobilized in a seated position day after day may cause numerous health problems related to the circulatory, musculo-skeletal and metabolic systems. In regards to the low back, sitting is a position that results in significant compression force that may cause pain. Managing low back pain in the seated position requires consideration of several variables:

1) Time duration,
2) Posture,
3) Movement,
4) And work station ergonomics.

Although ergonomic considerations of the chair (seat) and/or the work surface are essential in low back pain management, this back tip suggestion will focus to the first 3 factors.

If you are having pain when sitting, particularly at the end of the day, you need to become aware of how much time you spend in the seated position. The simple message your back is conveying to you is "I (back) can not tolerate this amount of sitting in a given day." You now have a choice - continue sitting for the same amount of time and endure pain or reduce your sitting time. Some suggestions on lessening your sitting time include:

1) Taking more frequent walking breaks,
2) Standing when talking on the phone,
3) Lying down or walking during lunch break.

In regards to sitting posture most people sit in a flexed (slump) low back position.

To reduce pressure on the lumbar discs and ease tension on the supportive ligaments when sitting a neutral pelvic position with maintenance of the lumbar curve is generally recommended. To find neutral pelvic position in sitting gently rock your pelvis back and forth until your weight is directly through your sit bones.

Edge sitting will also help to achieve neutral pelvic position as well as maintain upright spinal alignment.

Although neutral pelvic position is advised as a preferred sitting posture for most people, certain low back conditions may respond best to a slightly rounded or slightly arched position.

The third consideration regarding pain in the seated position concerns the frequency in which movement is performed when sitting. The operating premise is that static sitting is less desirable than dynamic sitting. Pressure concentration on the spinal elements is reduced during movement, fatigue response in vertebra and discs is decreased and postural muscle activity is enhanced. Small pelvic tilt movements in the sitting position which gently flex (round) and extend (arch) the low back within pain tolerance are advocated as a way to alter pressure distribution, delay fatigue response and activate postural muscles for spinal support.

Sitting is a necessary evil with respect to work and leisure activities. The strategies suggested may help to make sitting more tolerable if you have low back problems. For additional help in making sitting more comfortable for your low back, contact the Atlanta Back Clinic, or call us at 770-491-6004 to consult with a physical therapist.