At some point in life, about 80 percent of adults will experience lower back pain. For approximately 20 percent of adults, this will develop into chronic low back pain. This common problem can make it difficult to get through your day. It is even worse when you are sitting for work or just to relax. The good news is that the better you understand why lower back and hip pain when sitting occurs, the faster you can work to alleviate it.
1. Understand the Lower Back Anatomy
Your lower back has five spinal vertebrae. These five vertebrae make up your lumbar spine. This spinal region is responsible for supporting most of your upper body weight. Between each of the vertebrae are spinal discs. These function as shock absorbers, and they have a rubbery consistency.
Ligaments are bands of tissue that work to keep your vertebrae in place. The muscles that attach to the spinal column are held in place by the tendons. There are also nerves in this area that work to send signals to the brain and control body movements.
Lower back pain can stem from any of these lower back components. These structures can become stressed, resulting in pain and stiffness. Injuries can also affect these components of your lower back, causing discomfort.
It is important to strengthen and stretch your spine and the attached soft tissues. Conditioning these elements helps to keep them healthy. When they are healthy, they are more resistant to stress and injury. This could reduce your risk of experiencing lower back pain when sitting.
2. Know the Common Causes of Lower Back Pain
Knowing the most common causes of lower back pain can help you to reduce your risk of experiencing them. In most cases, low back pain is due to a mechanical cause. These can include:
- Strains and sprains to the tendons and ligaments in your lower back
- Ruptured or herniated lumbar spinal discs
- Degeneration of the lumbar spinal discs, usually due to the aging process
- Radiculopathy, which is a condition where the nerve roots in the lower back are inflamed and compressed, causing pain
- Sciatica, which is a condition where the sciatic nerve is compressed, and can lead to pain in the lower back, hip and down the affected leg
- Spondylolisthesis, which is a condition where a spinal nerve is compressed by a lumbar spinal disc that slips out of place
3. Choose the Right Chair
The chair you sit in has a major impact on your lower back. A good chair can promote proper posture and help to alleviate your pain. Make sure that all of your office furniture is ergonomic to reduce the stress on your back. Using ergonomic office furniture offers the following benefits:
- This furniture provides support
- It is more comfortable compared to non-ergonomic furniture
- It promotes better posture to decrease low back pain
- It helps to reduce pressure on the hips
When it comes to your chair, there are several tips to use to choose one that will benefit your back the most. Consider the following:
- Adjustable height: When you are sitting in the chair, your thighs should be horizontal and your feet flat on the floor. An adjustable chair makes it easy to get the proper height.
- Comfort: Make sure your chair has adequate padding, but not so much that you sink too far into it. Test some chairs by sitting in them to choose the right level of padding.
- Lumbar support: Lumbar support helps to keep your lumbar spine in the proper alignment. This promotes better overall posture and can help to reduce the pressure on your lower back.
- Swivel capabilities: When your chair swivels, you do not have to twist your back to reach things in your work station. A swivel chair with wheels is even better.
4. Consider Posture Aids
Whether you are sitting at your desk or driving long distances, posture aids can help you to sit more comfortably. When you are using proper posture, your spine is stable and strong. When you are stooping or slouching, this causes strain on the soft tissues and vertebrae in your lower back.
Posture aids work to reduce pressure on your back while supporting proper sitting posture. Many people are unaware that they have posture issues. To see if your posture is proper, sit in your chair as you usually do and have someone take photos of you from both sides, the front and the back. If you notice slouching or stooping, your posture needs correction. Also, make sure that your chair height is proper using this method.
- Frequent travelers or people who drive for their job
- Wheelchair users
- Office workers
- Pregnant women
There are different types of orthopedic cushions depending on your needs. The following are common types:
- Coccyx cushions
- Lumbar cushions
- Pelvic cushions
- Ring cushions
- Wheelchair and sitting cushions
Consider the low back pain you experience when you are sitting to make the right choice. For example, if proper posture is a problem, a lumbar cushion is a good choice. If your low back gets sore due to prolonged sitting, a sitting cushion is ideal. You can also use more than one cushion to improve comfort when you are sitting.
5. Practice Proper Sitting Posture
There is a certain way to sit in a chair or vehicle driver’s seat that will ensure that you are using proper posture:
- Use lumbar support at the curve of your lower back
- Do not sit for prolonged periods of time when possible
- Make sure that your knees and hips are at a right angle
- Ensure that your feet sit flat on the floor (do not sit with crossed legs)
- Sit up straight
Posture can be due to a bad habit, or because of the following:
- Weak muscles: When the muscles in your back and abdominal area are weak, this can cause you to slump when you are sitting. This makes it more difficult to use proper posture.
- Lack of flexibility: Inadequate range of motion in your hips, lower back and abdomen force your upper body forward, causing you to hunch over when you are sitting.
Working on the flexibility and strength of these muscles can help you naturally develop a healthy sitting posture. You can also use posture aids and orthopedic cushions to make using proper posture easier and more comfortable.
6. Stretch Out While Sitting
When muscles are not flexible, they can develop trigger points. These are areas in the muscle that feel like knots. Even light touch can cause them to be painful. Improving the strength and flexibility of your muscles is the best way to reduce the pain associated with trigger points.
There are stretches you can do without ever getting out of your chair. You can perform these stretches several times a day to help improve your flexibility and alleviate low back pain. The stretches include:
- Reach up: Sit up straight in your chair and put your arms above your head. Reach toward the ceiling as much as you can. Hold for 10 seconds.
- Leg stretch: Sitting in your chair, stretch your legs out until the back of your heels are touching the floor. Bend forward as far as you can. This stretches the hips, back of your thighs and your lower back. Hold for 10 seconds.
- Sit and twist: Sit in your chair using proper posture. Slowly twist your upper body to the right without moving your legs or hips. Hold for 10 seconds and then repeat this stretch by twisting to the left.
- Reach forward: Sit in your chair using proper posture. Bend at the waist until your stomach is touching your thighs. Reach your arms out in front of you. Hold for 10 seconds.
7. Adjust Your Work Station
An ergonomic workstation allows you to interact with your workspace in a way that is safe, healthy and efficient. This can help to reduce your risk of low back pain and aid you in being more productive.
In addition to your chair, you have other workspace elements to alter to ensure that everything is ergonomic. These include:
- Desk: Your desk should be the right height so that you do not have to hunch over to reach anything. Ideally, choose a desk with a slide out keyboard compartment that is adjustable, allowing you to get the perfect height.
- Mouse: You should be able to operate your computer mouse without having to stretch your arm. Ideally, the mouse should be next to your keyboard for proper posture and efficiency.
- Computer monitor: Your monitor should be at eye level so that you do not have to raise or lower your neck to view it. If you use multiple monitors, make sure that all of them are at the same height.
- Other devices: Devices, such as your phone and printer, should be easy to reach without stretching. A swivel chair can help to make this easier for you.
You can add a few ergonomic accessories to your workstation to ensure proper posture. The following are beneficial:
- A seat cushion to help maintain proper posture and relief pressure
- A footrest that is adjustable so that your feet are properly aligned
- A wrist rest so that you can type without bending your wrists at abnormal angles
- A headset so that you can talk on the phone hands-free without bending your neck to hold your phone
8. Stand When You Can
When you sit, this can put pressure on your back. In fact, compared to standing, when you are sitting, there is about 40 to 90 percent more pressure affecting your back which can contribute to pain. This pain can be made worse when you use improper posture when you are sitting.
Every one to two hours, standing for just two to three minutes can alleviate the lower back pain you experience when you are sitting. You can set an alarm to remind yourself to stand up at regular intervals.
At work, just standing up at your desk and gently stretching is beneficial. If you can move around, taking a two-minute walk can help to reduce your pain. The key is to get up on a regular basis to help alleviate some of the pressure on your lower back when you are sitting.
Consider this information and think about which techniques will best help you to learn how to ease lower back pain. Most people find that using several of these methods helps to calm their pain and keep them comfortable.