Why is Sitting Bad for Your Back and How can you Improve It?

Dr. Ben Coupe

July 12, 2016

These days we’re sitting more often and in most cases longer. Many of us are in the office chair all day, using the car to get to and from work and then plonking down in front of the TV for a few hours at night if your lucky. Sit, sit, sit all day long! so, why is sitting bad?

There is research now proving a correlation between low back pain and increased sitting times. One study in 2009 stated the two most frequently cited risk factors with low back pain are occupational sitting and prolonged static sitting. Interestingly this study also suggested a probable reason for this is a reduction in the lumbar lordosis.

A quick technical aside. The lumbar lordosis refers to the low back (or lumbar spine) curve. If you feel you low back right now there should be a smooth C-shape curve when looking from the side. The specifics can be measured on x-ray.

When you sit we generally reduce this curve, similar to when you bend forward. A study in 2011 showed that for every 15 degrees that we reduce that curve we increase the force on the low back by 48%! It also demonstrated a decrease in the load by 19% by every 10 degrees we increase the curve.

So what is the significance of this information? Sitting less often is obviously one answer to reduce problems but it’s just not practical for most to avoid sitting altogether. There are however things you can do to improve your sitting position. If you have been to one of our Sit, Sleep and Stand workshops you should already know the answer.

Most seats encourage our hips to sit lower then our knees. As a result we reduce our lumbar curve. You can test this on yourself right now. You’ll notice it requires a lot of physical effort to maintain your lumbar curve when your hips are lower the your knees but if your hips are higher then your knees then this curve becomes effortless. Get the incline just right and in fact it’s impossible for you not to improve your lumbar curve. Even when your actively letting your body relax.

The best way to do this is not just trying to sit more upright. Instead use a seat wedge or sit on some folded towels so that your hips are higher than your knees and you can’t help but maintain a better lumbar curve. As you’ve just read the result is less load on your lower back and consequently less low back pain. What’s not great about that!

If you want to understand more about this come along to one of our Sit, Sleep, Standing workshops and get it demonstrated on you. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is

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