For people with low back and leg pain, sitting can be annoying at the least and excruciatingly painful at its worst. This is especially true if you are suffering with a disc herniation or disc protrusion. If this sound like you, keep reading. I will share with you 3 things you need to know to reduce pressure in your spine while sitting.
You Will Learn:
- The wrong way to sit
- The right way to sit
- How often you should get out of your chair and move
Why Does Sitting Hurt In The First Place?
We know from the research done by the renown Dr. Nachemson, disc pressures significantly increase when we sit as compared to standing. Lets say that when standing there is 100 lbs of disc pressure on a lumbar disc. Nachemson showed that with sitting there is a 140 lbs of pressure on the disc. The more a person slouches, the higher the increase in disc pressure. (This begs me to ask you the question: HOW IS YOUR POSTURE WHEN YOU ARE SITTING?) Sitting pressures can go up to 275 lbs. That is almost 3X more pressure on your discs when standing vs sitting! When you have a disc problem in your low back, it is no wonder why it hurts to sit.
Where Do We Sit?
We sit at work, we sit at home, we sit in the car. In today’s informational society, many people experience lower back pain from sitting at a desk or lower back pain from sitting too much. Much time is spent sitting in office chairs, whether at work or surfing the web at home. The greatest impact we can have on improving our sitting posture is when we are using office chairs or table chairs.
- The Wrong Way To Sit – Why Do We Do It?
Most people aim for the center of the seat when they sit down. This forces us to slouch so our back can touch the backrest. In a slouched position, we lose the natural curve in our back. This increases disc pressure as we just discussed. Over time, this can contribute to the development of disc herniations.
It takes a great deal of muscle contraction to sit up straight. We simply cannot sustain it. The muscles fatigue very quickly and become painful. Even if we could sustain that position, the disc pressures are still very elevated due to loss of the low back curve. We lose this curve because our knees are typically at the same level of our hips or even higher.
- The Right Way To Sit – Reduce Back Pressure And Get Relief
The best way to significantly reduce pressure on your spine is to sit at the front edge of your chair and position your knees lower than your hips. This helps us in several ways.
- When your knees are lower that your hips, it restores the curve in your low back. This decreases disc pressure that can cause pain.
- It reduces muscle strain and allows you to sit straight in a much-improved posture.
- Sitting at the edge of the chair reduces pressure on the back of your thighs.
- This better posture also reduces strain in your neck and shoulders.
An alternate, but less effective, way to sit is to be sure your bottom is all the way back in seat. Then as your back tries to slouch, it will hit the backrest much sooner. If your knees are still elevated, the disc pressures will continue to be higher, but to a lesser degree. If your legs are short, you will have to place a pillow behind your back. Foam wedges that are thicker in the back are available to sit on. These can help lower your knees while still sitting back in your chair.
How to sit on a sofa with lower back pain
If you are sitting on a couch or recliner, make sure it is not too soft. Lack of support will cause you to slouch and again increase disc pressure. The two best things you can do are:
- Place a pillow behind your back for support.
- Sit with some bend in your knees if your feet are elevated in the recliner or ottoman.
If you are spending a lot of time in the car, putting a pillow behind your back may provide some relief.
Are you sitting on a billfold?
If carry a billfold in your back pocket, be sure you take it out before sitting. This creates a wedge and will place additional stress on your spine.
- How Often Should I Get Up And Move
For most people, time passes quickly when working on a computer, tablet or just looking at information on our smart phones. Before you know it, a couple of hours have passed, and we have not moved. Sound familiar?
People who are in an acute flare-up will need to move/change positions more frequently (sometimes as often as every 20-30 minutes). As a general rule, I recommend people get up from sitting every 45-60 minutes. This allows our disc pressures to lower and fluids to move. Sitting for long periods tends to allow swelling of other tissues to set in.
Struggling to remember to move?
If you just can’t seem to remember to move, here is a suggestion. Set a recurring alert on your computer or phone to notify you at different times of the day. That quick alert will help you form better habits over time.
Recap – Take back some control over your life.
If you have lower back pain from sitting or sciatic nerve pain is killing you, remember the following tips:
- Sit at the front edge of your chair with your feet lower than your hips, at least part of your day
- When sitting back in your chair, make sure you are sitting all the way to the back so the backrest can give you better support. (Use a pillow when necessary)
- Get up and move at least once an hour
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