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Ask the Doctor: Are You Sitting Weird?

Sitting in a bad position could be the cause of your lower or upper back pains. Learn some corrective measures to avoid the aches.

The featured question this week comes from a reader asking about lower back pain:

I have a lot of back pains and I'm beginning to think I'm sitting in my office chair the wrong way or something. I'm young, so it seems weird that I'm going through this! Any solutions?

Technology is a great thing, but it has also led many of us to experience neck, upper back, or lower back pain. We are increasingly spending more time in front of a computer or TV, and this really isn't good for the body. Our body functions best when we move efficiently and well. Blood flow, for example, will be affected if we're not moving enough. Our joints also become affected from lack of movement. Besides genetics, lack of mobility is a major contributor to degeneration of our joints. Our joints have no direct blood supply, so in order to get nutrients in and waste out, we need to move. If a joint becomes stuck for too long, waste builds up and there is increased calcification of the joints and you have arthritis. One of the goals of chiropractic care is to keep the joints healthy and moving to avoid arthritis, pain and inflammation.

Also, when we sit too long, the muscles aren't very happy either. They can fatigue and feel stressed or strained, especially if even the smallest thing is off with our posture. So, with that said, there are a few simple things to implement to reduce pain while sitting.

  • Get up and move - I recommend to all my patients that they shouldn't sit for too long; it doesn't matter if it's at work or at home. Every 30-45 minutes at a minimum, you should get up and walk around. Even if it's a quick trip to get some water or walk around the office, this does help over the course of a day. If there's an opportunity, take a 15-20 minute walk at least once during your work day. Since time can often slip away from us, it may be useful to set an alarm or timer on your phone or computer. There are also some apps available for phones that give you reminders to get up or even to look away from the monitor to avoid eye strain.
  • Stretching - So this one follows along with the get up and move.  Stretching is also helpful, even if it's a simple forward bend or some light twisting movements. Move the neck and shoulders around in slow circles and help oxygen and blood get back into the area.
  • Proper Posture - While sitting, it is important to sit all the way back in the chair and have your low back supported with a lumbar support or a rolled up towel. The muscles of your low back should feel nice and relaxed. Avoid reaching forward with your arms - the inside edge of your shoulder blades should be resting against the back of the chair. This will avoid any undo stress on the traps and rhomboids and other smaller muscles of the neck and shoulders. Keep your feet flat on the floor. Many, especially women, are prone to sitting with one foot on the chair tucked underneath the other leg. Bad idea. It creates altered stress on the joints and muscles which can lead to pain.
  • Chairs - It is important to have a good chair, preferably with a good lumbar support. Better chairs cost a little bit more, but I believe it's worth the cost to reduce any low back pain. Chairs are not a cure all for pain - you still need to make sure you're sitting properly and getting up every so often - but they're part of the equation for keeping a healthy back.  Alternative types of chairs, like knee chairs or using exercise balls, can be beneficial for short-term sitting. You can still sit improperly on these chairs, and you need to be even more conscious of your posture. For a good chair recommendation, you can email me and I'll send you to the right place!
  • Standing Desks - Standing desks are becoming more popular lately.  Standing puts the second least load on the discs between our vertebra (lying down in a neutral position is the least load), which is why standing can feel so good for some with low back pain. I think it's still important to alternate sitting and standing, but it may be worth a shot to give standing a chance. As an added bonus, people with standing desks may burn more calories in a day. 

These are some of the standout tips to help reduce pain while sitting. There are a lot of postural things to consider, and I certainly didn't list them all. I believe that just staying active throughout the day is a big component and not sitting too weird is also important. 

If you've made some of these changes and are still having issues, I will make a very bias recommendation and say that seeing a chiropractor can also benefit you greatly.

Now that I've given some advice, I'm going to follow it now by stretching a bit! Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions you'd like featured here, please email me at QureshiDC@gmail.com or submit to the comments below.  Have a happy and safe 4th of July!

Barn Hill June 27, 2012 at 10:42 AM
Delighted to see your photo attached to this article of Diya Cruz teaching Alexander technique -- great way to improve how you sit, stand and use a computer. More information at www.Diyacruz.com
MultiTable.com June 27, 2012 at 03:40 PM
A Height Adjustable Desk or Table would be a great solution for those who need to fluctuate their sitting & standing time at their desk. With a <a href="http://heightadjustableworktable.com/Index.php/products#">ModTable</a> base from <a href="http://heightadjustableworktable.com/">MultiTable.com</a>, you can adjust the height of the desk to your comfort level. They are even customizable, and you can choose your own base color as well as top size & color! There is a lot of health information on the website explaining the health benefits of standing while you work. We are always here to help with your ergonomic set up, and any questions you may have!
RVSalesOfBroward June 27, 2012 at 08:00 PM
Feed and nourish bones, joints and articular cartilage with all natural supplements - MyPerfectBones.com
Rebecca Schwartz June 27, 2012 at 11:28 PM
I work for BackJoy which is a Colorado based personal wellness company that invents products to help people sleep, sit and stand better. I would very much like to connect with your community to introduce our posture products. Many thanks, Rebecca Schwartz
Beau Schmitt July 02, 2012 at 06:43 PM
I own and operate BackPainCo.com which specializes in back pain relief products and information. We have a popular desk chair attachment that promotes posture and spinal alignment. I actually use it myself because I naturally lean to the left while sitting at my desk (probably the way I hold the mouse). Link to Product: http://backpainco.com/back-cushions/desk-chair-back-rest/ Link to Helpful Article: http://backpainco.com/do-you-sit-all-day-long/
Lighting Steve July 08, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Interesting that standing is the second best posture. But most of us cannot stand up all day. I was going to get a new mattress, and I made a posture change to my side-sleep position and it has been great since. For standing at work, we use this one, which lets us sit or stand and continue to use our regular desk. http://www.lampsusa.com/homeconcept_speedy-stand-up-portable-desk-marble.aspx
Kamron Kunce July 20, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Thanks for raising awareness of the risks involved with sitting down for long periods of time. Most people don't realize the ill effects it has on the body. Time for a change. The UpDesk is the perfect solution. It's a height-adjustable desk that smoothly transitions up or down with a touch of a button (or manual crank). You'll find that we're competitively priced as well. We would love to earn your business and recommendation! Help us raise the standard... one desk at a time. Kamron Kunce Director of Social Media at UpDesk

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