Lower Back Pain When Sitting: The True Cost of Prolonged Sitting

Like most people, you are most likely sitting as you read this. Sitting is a common part of our daily lives, whether at work, during commutes, or relaxing at home. However, the impact of prolonged sitting on our lower back can be significant and detrimental. Eight out of 10 people will experience back pain at some point in their lives, and one-third of all disability claims are due to complaints of low back pain. Back pain is also the most common reason for missed workdays.

According to the US Surgeon General, 3 or more hours per day of sitting has the equivalent detrimental effect on one’s health as does being a smoker. Sitting contributes to higher blood pressure, high blood sugar, increased fat around the waist, and unhealthy cholesterol levels, which are components of metabolic syndrome.

Our bodies, and specifically our spines, are designed for movement. Holding any one position for extended periods can lead to various health issues, with sitting contributing more than other positions to lower back pain and overall health problems. This article delves into the effects of prolonged sitting on the lower back, offering insights into the mechanisms behind the pain and practical strategies to relieve lower back pain when sitting

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The Effects Prolonged Sitting Has on the Lower Back

Prolonged sitting places significant stress on the spine, leading to various health issues, particularly lower back pain. Even when using proper posture, the compression of spinal discs and stretching of spinal nerves and ligaments can cause damage over time and could still cause lower back pain when sitting. Poor posture further exacerbates these problems, creating focused areas of strain that can lead to pain and postural distortions. Here are the main effects prolonged sitting can have on the lower back:

  • Spinal Disc Degeneration: Increased stress on vertebral bodies and discs contributes to disc degeneration and herniation.
  • Nerve Compression and Irritation: Abnormal curvature can narrow the spinal canal, compressing nerve roots, causing pain, numbness, and weakness.
  • Facet Joint Degeneration: Excessive stress on facet joints can lead to osteoarthritis and chronic low back pain.
  • Muscle Imbalance and Strain: Loss of lumbar curvature can cause muscle fatigue, spasms, and chronic pain.
  • Reduced Spinal Mobility and Flexibility: Structural changes can limit spinal mobility, impacting daily activities and quality of life.
  • Altered Load Distribution: Uneven load distribution across the lumbar spine increases the risk of vertebral fractures.
  • Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD): Accelerated degeneration of intervertebral discs contributes to chronic pain and reduced function.
  • Neurological Deficits: Chronic compression of spinal nerves can lead to long-term neurological issues, such as reduced reflexes and sensory loss.
  • Postural Instability: Compromised spinal stability increases the risk of falls and related injuries.
  • Chronic Inflammation: Persistent abnormal spinal mechanics can cause chronic inflammation, exacerbating pain and creating a cycle of chronic low back pain.

lower back pain when sitting

Making Work Environment Adjustments for Back Pain

Millions of people work at desks all day, often sitting for prolonged periods. This sedentary lifestyle can put immense pressure on the spine and can eventually cause lower back pain when sitting. However, you can minimize these risks by properly setting up your workstation. Here are some tips to help you adjust your desk and chair height, maintain proper sitting posture, and create an ergonomic workspace.

Proper Sitting Posture and Ergonomic Setup

Maintaining proper sitting posture and alignment is crucial for spinal health. Ensure your hips and knees are bent at 90-degree angles, and keep your eyes looking straight ahead, avoiding craning your neck downward toward your work. Adjust your desk height so that your laptop or reading material is at eye level and set your chair height to ensure your head and back are in contact with the chair, promoting proper alignment. Keep your head centered over your shoulders and your torso centered over your pelvis to support a healthy spinal position.

Position your keyboard and mouse to avoid any bend in your wrists, neither flexion nor extension. Your elbows should be at roughly 90-degree angles, with your hands resting on the keyboard and mouse. This setup prevents excess stretching and irritation of the nerves, muscles, ligaments, and joints in your wrists, elbows, and shoulders. This will aid in preventing lower back pain when sitting at your desk.

Choose a chair with proper lumbar support to maintain the natural curve of your spine. The chair should be firm in the mid and upper back areas to prevent reclining and encourage good posture. Consider chairs with headrests to support your head and neck.

Supportive Cushions and Alternative Seating

Use lumbar support cushions or rolls to maintain the natural curve of your spine. These can be added to less supportive chairs to improve comfort and reduce strain. Seat cushions or discs can create a point of mobility for your pelvis and lumbar spine, promoting movement and reducing stiffness.

Alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day to reduce the strain on your lower back. Standing desks can be adjusted to the correct height for your ergonomic needs, allowing you to switch positions easily and promote better posture.

Incorporate exercise balls or balance equipment into your seating options. These tools can help strengthen your core muscles, improve posture, and promote active sitting by encouraging subtle movements that keep your spine engaged.

Lastly, remember to take regular breaks to stand, stretch, and move around. Aim for a break every 30 minutes to prevent prolonged pressure on your spine. Simple stretches, such as standing back bends or walking around the office, can relieve tension and improve circulation.

Do you suffer from any of these symptoms and are looking for relief?

Effective Exercises for Back Pain

Maintaining a healthy spine requires more than just proper sitting posture and an ergonomic workstation. Regular movement, stretching, and targeted exercises are crucial to alleviate and prevent lower back pain when sitting. By incorporating specific stretches and exercises into your daily routine, you can counteract the negative effects of prolonged sitting and support your spine’s health. Here are a few useful exercises to try for lower back pain.

Cat/Cow Pose

  • Get on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips
  • Arch your mid-back upward like a cat
  • Alternate with the mid-back sagging downward
  • Hold each position for 10 seconds and repeat 5-10 times

Plank Exercises

Front Plank:

  • Begin by lying face down on the floor.
  • Prop yourself up on your forearms and toes (or knees for a modified version).
  • Ensure your body forms a straight line from your head to your knees (or toes). Keep your core engaged and avoid sagging or arching your back.
  • Maintain this position for as long as possible while keeping good form, aiming to challenge your core muscles.

Side Plank:

  • Lie on your side on the floor.
  • Prop yourself up on one forearm, with your elbow directly under your shoulder. Use either your knees (easier) or feet (more challenging) as the point of contact with the ground.
  • Keep your body in a straight line from your head to your knees (or feet). Engage your core muscles and avoid letting your hips sag or rotate.
  • Hold the side plank position for half the time you held the front plank, then switch sides and repeat. Aim to complete 2 sets on each side.

Balance Exercises

  • Single-Leg Stands: Stand on one leg with eyes open for as long as you can, then, so long as you are in a safe environment, try it with your eyes closed. Repeat this process on the other leg.
  • Unstable Surface Stands: Stand on a wobbly surface like a pillow, folded blanket, or balance disc to challenge stability and strengthen balance

Holistic Back Pain Management

To effectively manage lower back pain when sitting and low back pain in general, it’s important to address its underlying causes rather than merely treating symptoms. Managing weight through a balanced diet is crucial. Focus on consuming adequate protein and vegetables while minimizing sugars and processed foods. Pairing carbohydrates with healthy fats such as olive or avocado oil can further support spinal health. Regular exercise, including cardio and strength training, helps maintain overall fitness and reduce strain on the spine in any position.

Hydration plays a vital role in spinal health by ensuring spinal discs remain adequately cushioned and supported. Drinking sufficient water daily helps maintain optimal spinal function and reduces the risk of dehydration-induced back pain.

Furthermore, managing stress is crucial to preventing chronic back pain. Stress can exacerbate muscle tension and contribute to discomfort. Adopting relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing exercises can effectively mitigate stress levels, promoting muscle relaxation and pain relief. These holistic approaches together can aid in managing and preventing back pain.

Chiropractic Care for Back Pain

Chiropractic adjustments play a crucial role in aiding the body’s healing process and structural alignment, particularly when it comes to the effects of prolonged sitting. At Whole Body Health Chiropractic, we understand how sitting strains our spine, creating tension, causing nerve irritation, and premature joint degeneration. By gently realigning the spine and restoring brain-body communication, chiropractic care helps the body release this built-up tension and helps it restore its neutral state of alignment, balance, and function. This shift allows for more tolerance of all postures and positions and more importantly, promotes healthy joints, muscles, ligaments, and nerves.

In addition to chiropractic care, we take a holistic approach by incorporating functional medicine principles. By addressing lifestyle stressors, such as toxic behaviors and nutrient deficiencies, we can optimize your body’s ability to heal and thrive and reduce drivers of inflammation.

Our comprehensive approach considers how you eat, move, and think, ensuring that every aspect of your lifestyle supports your health and vitality. Ready to stop wondering how to improve your posture so you can stay pain-free, focused, and strong while sitting? Experience the benefits of chiropractic care and functional medicine for yourself by scheduling an appointment with us today.

Frequently Asked Questions About Lower Back Pain When Sitting

Prolonged sitting places significant stress on the spine, compressing spinal discs and stretching spinal nerves and ligaments, which can lead to pain and degeneration over time.

Make sure your desk and chair are at proper heights to maintain a 90-degree angle at your hips and knees. Your computer screen should be at eye level, and your chair should provide good lumbar support.

Poor posture, such as slouching, compresses abdominal muscles and organs, which can hinder digestion and increase the risk of acid reflux and constipation.

Yes, good posture can boost your mood due to the brain-body connection. Standing or sitting upright can elevate your spirits and improve your overall well-being.

Maintain a neutral spine by keeping your head and back aligned with your chair, use lumbar support cushions, and take regular breaks to stand, stretch, and move around.

Chiropractic care can help by realigning the spine, reducing nerve irritation, and restoring proper function to the spine and surrounding muscles, ligaments, and nerves.

Do you suffer from any of these symptoms and are looking for relief?

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