Back Pain When Sitting

By: Ehren Allen, DPT, COMT

To read more about a "catch" or locking sensation in your back, please read this informative ARTICLE.

Lower Back Pain When Sitting

It is actually pretty normal to have low back pain at some point in your life. It happens to 4 out of 5 people. It is partially because we were not made to sit all day. But the majority of jobs require people to sit at a computer station for 8 hours daily. The sitting position places the low back in an unnatural position. This sitting posture places increased force on the low back.

Image of the anatomy of sitting with good posture on the right and bad posture on the left with labelled descriptionsAnatomy of Sitting

What Causes Low Back Pain When Sitting?

The quick answer is Gravity. As we sit, gravity pulls the body downward and we begin to slouch. The lumbar spine begins to flex forward and the pelvis slides out in the seat.

Over time, the stress of the forward flexed low back position wears out the disks in the lumbar spine. This can lead to a lumbar strain or herniated disksanatomy labelled spine image of vertebrae with a herniated disk on the right and without a herniated disc on the leftSpinal Disc Herniation

Lower Back Pain When Sitting But Not Standing

It's actually pretty common for low back pain from sitting to go away with standing. That's because standing promotes proper posture in the lumbar spine. 

Doctors and Physical Therapists commonly recommend standing work stations for people with low back pain with sitting.

Some people get low back pain with standing. Standing low back pain is usually treated with different exercises.

Relieve Low Back Pain from Sitting

Fortunately, low back pain when sitting and sciatica are very treatable! There are exercises for low back pain that you can do at home that are very helpful.

A physical therapist can help teach you proper ways to tolerate prolonged sitting. Physical therapists can also provide education about proper desk ergonomics. Additionally, they teach exercises to engage the deep postural endurance muscles of the core. While sitting, it is important to maintain the natural curve of the lower back. This curve can be supported by the use of placing a rolled up towel between the small of the back and the back of the chair. 

The proper setup of your office chair may also need to be analyzed or adjusted. Also, a postural stabilizing muscle called the transverse abdominis needs to contract. This stabilizes the vertebrae in your spine and take pressure off of the ligaments. This will help to reduce low back pain. 

Animated image of a person sitting at a computer station with bad posture and good postureProper Posture Can Help With Back Pain When Sitting

Fix Low Back Pain From Sitting at Work

Anytime you are sitting for an extended period of time, it is important to take breaks. This should be done every half hour to every hour. Stand up and stretch for one minute. This will help to take pressure off the back, improve mobility within various structures of the spine including the discs. It will also help to avoid a pulled back muscle from repetitive strain and help improve circulation.

Keep ergonomics in mind! The way you sit and how your work space is set up can have huge effects on how your body feels at the end of the day. A standing work station may be helpful. Low back pain when sitting and sciatica are relatively common conditions that are sometimes not well understood. If you are experiencing lower back pain when sitting, a physical therapist can evaluate your condition and develop an individualized treatment plan to help reduce or eliminate your pain.  

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