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Is Sitting the Cause of My Back Pain

You're Not Alone

According to a study published by the Mayo Clinic, back pain is the third most common cause of doctor visits in the United States. And according to American Family Physician, only 25 to 30% of people seek treatment for their back pain.

So, if you're experiencing back pain, you're not alone. Many back pain sufferers struggle with what's causing their back pain, not realizing the 8 or more hours they spend sitting could be the main culprit.

The Causes

The most common cause of lower back pain is postural stress. For this reason, lower back pain is frequently brought on by prolonged bending, heavy lifting, or even standing or laying down in a poor, rounded back position. According to Cornell University Department of Ergonomics, up to 90% more pressure is put on your back when you sit versus when you stand. There are several reasons why, the first being that if you’re like most Americans, you habitually sit in ways that cause tension and imbalance in your back and neck. This applies to sitting at work, in the car, and at home.

Lots of sitting can start a cascade of events in the core and legs that results in several problems. When sitting for an extended period, the hip flexors are in their shortened position, which can prevent the glutes from firing, making them weak, and will cause the hamstrings to overwork. This results in anterior pelvic tilt (APT), which is an excessive tilt of the pelvis. APT can cause the abs to become underused and weak, which will make the pelvis tilt even more, making the sitter look like they have a bigger stomach than they actually do.

APT can cause low back pain, poor movement mechanics (when you walk, do sports, and many activities), and reciprocal inhibition (when one muscle on one side of a joint relaxes because the opposing muscle is engaged). 

Common Posture Mistakes That Lead to Back Problems

So many of us are guilty of the same common mistakes that increase postural stress and ultimately cause back pain. Over our lifetime, subconscious habits form and make it easy for us to miss when we're putting additional stresses on our bodies. Here are the most common causes of back pain and what you can do to correct them:

  1. You're looking down at your screen, phone, or desk, and your head tips forward. The human head weighs, on average, 10 lbs. Any slight angle forward puts a strain on the muscles of your neck and upper back. The further that you lean your head forward, and how long you keep that straining posture, determines how much extra work your neck and upper-back need to do.
  2. Your shoulders are rolled forward. Some of the most common causes of lower back pain are a lack of lumbar support from a chair that’s too soft or one that doesn’t encourage good posture, a muscular imbalance in which your pectoral muscles (chest) are stronger than your back muscles (common in men who like to work out their beach muscles more than their back), or habit. If you’re wondering if you’re guilty of this, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and let your arms hang down at your sides. If your thumb points forward, you’re probably balanced. If your palms are pointing behind you, you probably have an imbalance.
  3. You're leaning forward from your lower back. This posture puts even more pressure on the vertebrae of your lower spine (lumbar area), as it compresses your disks.
  4. Your elbows are too far away from your body. The rule in lifting anything is that the more the object weighs, and the further your elbows are away from your torso, the more strain you put on your shoulders and upper back. Reaching your arms forward to type or write might not seem like much, but doing it eight or more hours per day will take its toll.
  5. You hold your phone to your ear.  Many people multitask and talk on the phone while their hands are doing other things, wedging the phone between their shoulder and ear. Doing this for a few seconds isn’t going to cause an imbalance in your body, but anything more than that will cause tension on one side of your neck and upper back.
  6. You sit for too long. “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals” We weren’t designed to sit. The body is a perpetual motion machine.  When you’re sedentary, your muscles get less oxygen and nutrients from your blood. The rule of thumb is to frequently change postural positions and take movement micro-breaks for every 30 minutes of sitting throughout the workday. A helpful strategy is to drink lots of water: it keeps you hydrated, which is healthy, and it forces you to get up and move in order to use the bathroom! 

Getting Rid of Back Pain

At IPT we focus on the following (not only the following but it’s a nice place to start)

  • Lengthen the short hip flexors with stretches.
  • Retrain the glutes and hamstrings to fire more efficiently.
  • Strengthen the core and pelvic muscles to help pull the pelvis into place.

Finding an exercise that strengthens your core and teaches you to use those muscles properly can be helpful for many people to get rid of their low back pain.

Sitting Back Pain Frequently Asked Questions

Can sitting cause back pain?

Yes, because according to Cornell University, up to 90% more pressure is put on your back when sitting versus stand. Most people sit in ways that cause tension and imbalance in your back and neck.

Why does my lower back hurt when sitting and getting up?

There could be several different causes, but postural stress is the most is common. Sitting puts up to 90% more pressure on the lower back compared to standing due to poor posture.

How should you sit if you have lower back pain?

Good posture includes having your head should be back, so it's lined up with your shoulders. Your chest should be out, shoulders back, and your elbows should be close to your body.

How do I fix my back pain?

The best way to fix your back pain is to find out the cause of your back pain, which means you need to consult an expert.

Watch This Video: Improve Posture While Working From Home

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