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The Link between Prolonged Sitting and Lower Back Pain

Updated on June 20, 2018

Prolonged Sitting and Lower Back Pain

Do you spend several hours sitting at your desk, barely making time for bio breaks? If the answer to this question is yes, you may be placing your back at risk for undue pain as a result of prolonged sitting.

Prolonged sitting occurs when you sit in a single position for multiple hours at a time. There are many factors that put us at risk for not moving as much as we should from the convenience of technology to a work environment of endless meetings.

If you work from home, your mobility is that much more decreased thanks to all of the conveniences of placing office technology within an arms-reach.

If you find yourself seated for six hours or more each day, research shows that you are at an increased risk for lower back pain (LBP). Further, even people who never experienced lower back discomfort have later developed lower back pain in the lumbar spine area due to extended periods of time being seated at their desk. Couple extended seating at a desk with day-to-day emotions and stress in the workplace with a few hours sitting on the sofa and it's a recipe for lower back disaster.

What is Lower Back Pain?

Lower back pain (LBP) is described as pain localized between the twelfth rib and the region just near the buttocks region and it may or may not include some leg pain involvement. Each year, more than $50 billion is spent each year for back pain related issues --most of it going towards diagnostic testing consisting of x-rays, computed tomography (CT Scans) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs).

What Causes Lower Back Pain

What causes lower back pain (LBP) in people who sit for extended periods of time? Poor sitting posture is said to be the biggest culprit that is linked to lower back discomfort. There are three factors that one study has also linked to LBP. Those three factors are:

  • Insufficient nutrition to the intervertebral disc area
  • Stress-relaxation of spinal ligaments and;
  • Muscle fatigue

Other experts point to weak core muscles which results in the misalignment of your pelvis. This misalignment causes the knee and other joints to lose their stability which then contributes to lower back pain.

Additional causes of LBP may include:

  • Poor/sagging mattress
  • Obesity/overweight
  • Poor posture
  • Medical conditions (cancer, infection, inflammatory diseases)

Whatever the contributing factor to LBP, sufferers identify that upon attempting to stand or raise themselves to full height, the back muscles are very slow to respond. This slow response are the muscles effort to protect the back from pain but in spite of this effort, this shift or delay in muscle response still leads to an intense lower back pain.

Health Risks Associated with Prolonged Sitting

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), evidence exists that in addition to LBP, prolonged sitting may contribute to negative health outcomes and even mortality including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and possibly death.

To avoid the effects of prolonged sitting, the AAFP recommends that we make every effort to take one to three-minute breaks for every half hour of the day. Also, try standing or exercising while watching television.

Posture to Prevent Lower Back Pain

In addition to incorporating standing and exercise into our day, we can also take action to adopt health posture practices. Sitting can be more challenging to the spine than standing. The key is to ensure that you choose a sitting posture that minimizes stress to the back. Here are a few other tips for proper sitting posture:

  • Avoid swayback posture
  • Keep shoulders back and head up (avoid slumping your head forward)
  • Make sure your thighs are parallel to the ground
  • Keep your feet flat on the ground
  • Get up periodically from your desk to walk around (look out of the window or get something to drink,
  • Upon standing, try to evenly distribute your weight on both feet


Stretches for Lower Back Pain

Next, add a daily routine of stretches to relieve lower back pain symptoms. The aim of the lower back stretches is to strengthen the abdominal core and back so that pressure is removed from one's hips and spine. This allows the lower back to also relax a bit from its stained state. Stretches that consist 10-20 repetitions, two to three times per day can help reduce lower back pain.

Sun Salutation Cobra Pose Yoga Aerobic Exercise Posture
Sun Salutation Cobra Pose Yoga Aerobic Exercise Posture | Source
Downward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog | Source

Yoga for Lower Back Pain

Yoga is another option for managing lower back pain. Yoga offers a variety of stretches that may help in your quest to strengthen the lower back region. The two most commonly recommended positions consist of the downward dog and the sun salutation cobra pose.

Downward Dog

To perform the downward dog:

  • Bend from the hips and lean forward, walking your body out into a push-up
  • Next slowly move your hips towards the ceiling or sky so that your body forms a V-shape.
  • Place legs so that they are hip-length apart.
  • Hands should be placed at shoulders-length apart with fingers spread evenly.
  • Your weight should be evenly distributed and there should not be any strain on the legs, arms or wrists.
  • Remember to not arch your body but to maintain a good V.
  • Hold for 30 to 60 seconds

Sun Salutation Cobra Pose

To execute this pose:

  • Lie on your stomach with your legs and feet pointing out, heels together.
  • Place your palms on the floor at the side of your chest.
  • Lift your head and shoulders backwards without pressure on the palms while inhaling for three to five seconds.
  • Do not raise your body higher than the navel region, while retaining breath for six seconds. Breathe out three seconds, holding the pose, then return to the starting position.

Sitting on an exercise ball for 15-20 minutes can help strengthen core muscles
Sitting on an exercise ball for 15-20 minutes can help strengthen core muscles | Source

Pilates for Lower Back Pain

Pilates, founded by Joseph H. Pilates, has a reputation for being very beneficial to abdominal muscles which aid in improving and maintaining our posture. It focuses on not only strengthening our abdominal muscles but the lower back, hips and the buttocks without endangering our joints. Pilates may be suggested in managing lower back pain because it focuses on activating and stabilizing muscles in the lower back. Unfortunately for those who suffer from LBP, these muscles are often non functional and therefore, Pilates helps to wake those muscles up aids in improving the overall support to the lower back and helping to reduce chronic pain.

Pilates exercises may be floor-based or entail the use of special equipment. It is highly encouraged that should you choose to take advantage of Pilates that you confirm that the instructor is indeed a qualified professional to decrease the risk for further injury.

Other Exercises for Lower Back Pain

Crunches can lower back pain by almost 75%. With weak abdominal muscles, the muscles in the buttock and those in the shin have to work harder to keep the spine stable. Crunches can be performed four to six times per week.

To complete a proper crunch:

  • Lie with your knees bent and arms across your chest.
  • While pulling your abs in, lift your head, neck and upper back off the ground.
  • Hold for a second and then slowly lower.
  • Complete 10-12 repetitions (reps) to the center, 10-12 reps to the right, 10-12 reps to the left (repeat the sequence)

Walking is another way to decrease the amount of time spent in the sitting position. Many physicians recommend walking 30 minutes five times per week.

© 2014 Mahogany Speaks


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    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 

      3 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Lots of good advice here. I have an excellent office chair that helps a lot with sitting at my desk, but I still get quite a lot of pain. I like the yoga exercises (though have to admit to not being terribly good at exercising, apart from going for long walks). Anyhoo, thanks for sharing, great Hub.


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