Sitting: The Silent Culprit Behind Many Back Disorders

Sitting…let’s face it, we all do too much of it. Sitting may be the number one culprit in the cause of low back pain. All too often when I ask a patient what they think caused their problem, they seem very puzzled and may state, “Doc I really didn’t do anything strenuous, not much lifting or bending. I pretty much have a desk job and sit most of the day.”

How do we start the day?  Many of us get up in the morning, have a cup of coffee while sitting at the kitchen table. We get into our car, bus or train, navigate to work, sitting all the way. At work we may spend a good portion of our day sitting in a chair.

How do we end the day?  Back in our car, bus or train, sitting as we make our way back home. We sit for dinner then settle in on our comfy couch to watch a little TV before going to bed. We repeat this routine day after day, never calculating the actual amount of time devoted to being in the sitting position.

After explaining to patients that sitting may be an irritant or at least a factor  of why their back pain is not improving, I sometimes get the response, “But Doc I have a good orthopedic chair.” Think about that. What do you do in an orthopedic chair? You SIT in it. No matter how expensive the chair is it only makes “sitting” less bad. It gives a little relief but doesn’t address the problem.

A simple fact is the body and joints in the body love motion. Take a good healthy elbow, put it in a cast and leave it there for six months. That elbow will start to become arthritic. The same holds true for the low back area.

Sitting puts a constant pressure on the back part of the disc. This constant pressure over time will cause the disc to herniate.  In addition, it also creates an environment where there is literally no motion in the spine.  Motion in the spine increases circulation and helps toxins , which are the metabolic by products of each cell in the body,  to be flushed out.

Still, there are patients who say that sitting is the only position that will make them feel better. Unfortunately, these patients are often dealing with spinal stenosis and feeling better becomes a compromise. In fact, patients with severe spinal stenosis sometimes require the opposite of what we would normally do for patients without spinal stenosis.  For the patient with spinal stenosis standing up taller will only aggravate the lower back condition. But let me state that this is only true with severe spinal stenosis.

In most cases of spinal stenosis we will make an attempt to normalize the body and increase the ability of the body to extend backwards or stand taller, however, spinal stenosis can get to a point where it crosses the line and this approach becomes counterproductive.

Now that you know that sitting is counterproductive to your back, what do you do if you have a job that requires you to sit most of the day? Well, take heart, there are things you can do. Having and orthopedic chair might be helpful in maintaining a better posture. There is also a back support made for sitting produced by a company called Nada Chair which will maintain proper lumbar posture while sitting. And the cost is reasonable. It is important to note that none of the above suggestions will increase motion in the lumbar spine.

However, there is good news. There is a way to increase lumbar spine motion while sitting. It’s an exercise called “posting”. Posting is done by people who ride horses. It involves a forward and backward tilting of the pelvis. You can look this up on the Internet to see this simple motion.  Your colleagues at work will not even know you are doing it. It’s not blatantly obvious but it does create a flexion extension or a forward and backward bending of the lumbar spine which will increase circulation. Beside getting rid of toxins in the spine it exercises ligaments and the smaller paraspinal muscles.

An additional exercise can be done while sitting I called the seated bike. While sitting with good posture push one knee forward and then put the other knee forward. This rocking motion is also good for the sacroiliac joint which can be a secondary or alternative cause of back pain. Whether at work or at home it’s helpful to get out of your chair periodically and get up and walk around.

Whenever possible incorporate simple exercises into your daily routine by doing prone press ups, hip hikes, pelvic tilts or basic stretching. The exercises can vary from patient to patient. I suggest those of you having ongoing problems to order my book called, “Hope and Help For Back Pain” which can be purchased through our office for $15 which will include shipping and handling, or through Amazon.  My book will give you some insight into the types of exercises that might be right for your condition. Feel free to contact our office should you have any questions regarding sitting or other joint & spine issues.

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