Home » Pain Relief » Why Sitting Hurts Your Back (& How You Can Ease the Pain)
  • Why Sitting Hurts Your Back (& How You Can Ease the Pain)


    Of all the activities you might do, including bending over to pick something up (tsk, tsk,

    Sitting up straight
    Photo courtesy ABMP

    tsk), sitting is the worst for your low back.  The worst! Can you believe it??!?

    Which of the following do you think might be the reason why?

    1. Slouching
    2. Sitting up “straight”
    3. Using the chair’s back rest
    4. Not using the chair’s back rest
    5. Leaning forward in your chair
    6. Not using an ergonomic chair
    7. Using an ergonomic chair
    8. Compression of spine (especially the lower spine) for extended periods of time
    9. Chair height too high (so feet only touch on tiptoe)
    10. Chair height too low (so knees are at chest level)
    11. All of the above

    If you guessed #11, you’re right!! But wait, I hear cries of “Hey! some of those are opposites. How can they both be true?” That’s a good question. Let me explain the answers.

    1/2. Slouching curves our back into a forward C shape, but it naturally should have an S shape when viewed from the side. While in theory there’s nothing wrong with sitting up straight, most of us have a tendency to sit ram rod straight as if we’re in the armed services and sitting at attention. This tenses up all of the muscles that run the length of the back which may cause the “stay that way” result your mother used to warn you about. It can also cause our backs to become arched in the opposite way they should.

    3/4/5. Chairs and chair backs can be extremely different from one another. Some have straight backs, some have a curved back that looks like a C, some have a chair back that is more S-shaped (these are usually called ergonomic and I’ll discuss them separately). Because our spines have a somewhat S-shaped curve when viewed from the side, if we use a straight back chair or a curved (C-shape) chair back, our natural curve is not supported. If we don’t use the chair back at all, we are usually either slouching or leaning forward, both of which puts our spine into a C shape.

    6/7. Ergonomic chairs are not one size fits all; they can’t be because people come in all shapes and sizes. Some people have a short torso while others have a long torso and some of us are quite short overall and others very tall. For instance my husband (6ft 4 in) and I (5ft 2in) cannot use the same ergonomic chair. If the curves fit him, the low back curve goes partway into my mid back and the midback curve goes into my neck. It’s worse than no support because it pushes and pulls my mid and upper back curves in the wrong direction.

    8. I hope this is self-explanatory

    9/10. Either of these situations will cause your poorly postured legs to either push or pull your low back out of it’s proper curvature, which leads to nothing but pain.

    How you can ease or prevent the pain

    • Make sure your seat height allows your feet to be flat on the floor. Use a phone book or stool if your desk height necessitates having a too-high seat height – or if you just have really short legs. Stretch your legs out in front of you if possible if your desk is too low or if you have really long legs.
    • Get up every so often to stretch your back.  Take a trip to the restroom or water cooler, walk around your desk or chair a couple times, or walk to a boss’s or colleague’s desk to ask a question instead of picking up the phone. If your workplace frowns on the worker bees straying too far from the honeycomb, try some desk stretches for the back: A) lean forward slowly until you feel a slight stretch, hold a few seconds and slowly sit back up. B) Lean back slowly and arch your back, hold a few seconds, and slowly come back to center. C) Slowly lean to the right until you just start to feel a stretch, hold a few seconds, then slowly sit upright again. D) Repeat to the left. Do these several time a day!
    • Pull your chair all the way into your desk to prevent you from leaning in. Psst… this will also help your neck and shoulders.
    • Sit with a straight but relaxed posture. If you were a tree you should be able to sway in the breeze.
    • If you need extra support for your low back, try placing a small cushion or a folded and taped (so it doesn’t unfold itself every time you move) hand towel in the small of your back.
    • If your chair back is C shaped you will probably need another cushion/folded towel above the first to prevent the chair from forcing you into a slouch posture.

    I would love to hear from you. Did you try one of the remedies/preventions? How did it work for you? Do you have a remedy or prevention that I didn’t mention? Please share that too. I love learning new things!!

    As always: Share, Like, Comment, Retweet, etc. You know the drill 🙂

3 Responsesso far.

  1. This is great, and I will try to link to it. Beside these ideas, I would add a few more tricks. Don’t sit in the same position all day. Put a block under one foot for awhile, then switch it to the other foot. Put a towel or firm cushion in the “hole” in the seat to level it and try to get your sitz bones just a tiny bit higher than your knees (not a lot). A triangular cushion where the back is thicker than the front is best for to fill the hole, but that folded taped towel idea works okay.