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Lower Back Pain When Sitting - Why You Get It & How To Fix It 

Sitting down may seem like a fairly harmless activity, but did you know that it can be a major cause of lower back pain? 

Lower back pain when sitting

You've probably heard the phrase 'sitting is the new smoking' in the news over the past few years.

This is because research has found that people who live sedentary lifestyles and sit down for a few hours each day suffer from many health issues as a result.

And that some of these issues are so serious, they actually make sitting more dangerous for your long-term health than smoking!

Now I'm not sure I'd go as for as that, but there's no doubt that sitting can have some really negative effects on your health.

And a big one is the development of lower back pain.

As the pressure on your body from sitting aligned with the weakening of your core muscles and spinal discs lead to a lack of support for your back and put it under increasing strain.

So, if you work in an office and have to spend a few hours each day sat behind a desk, then you are at risk.

As those few hours sat at your computer or doing paperwork can take a massive toll on your back if you're not careful. 

Why Is Sitting So Damaging For Your Back?

sitting causes back pain

Our bodies are designed to move, so we need to move around to keep our muscles, organs, and joints healthy.

However, when you are sat down your body is inactive, and as such it can lead to a deterioration that results in lower back pain. 

But what is it exactly that makes sitting for an extended period of time like office workers have to do so dangerous for their backs?

Well it basically boils down to three factors:

  • When you sit down the vertebrae in your spine become compressed, which can lead to a weakening of your spinal discs over time.
  • Your core muscles remain inactive and weaken, meaning your back gets less support.
  • Many people tend to sit in an unhealthy posture, which increases the pressure and strain on their lower backs.

So let's go through these one by one.

Compressed Vertebrae = Weakened Spinal Discs

Keep your spinal discs healthy to ward off back pain.

In between each vertebrae of your spine you have a spinal disc which helps to keep your back healthy.

And they do so in 3 ways:

  • As a ligament to hold the spine together.
  • Also as an assistant to allow slight movements in your vertebrae, which helps to keep you mobile and flexible. 
  • As shock absorbers to protect your spine from any impact as you move around.

​So as you can see these discs are pretty important!

But to stay healthy they need you to move.

As when you do this they can expand and contract, which allows them to take in the blood, oxygen, and nutrients they need.

However, the problem is when you are sat down these discs become compressed.

And when they are compressed and squeezed in this way they can't take in any of these oxygen and nutrients, so they begin to deteriorate.

Which is a massive problem for your back.

As it leads to less flexibility in your spine, less shock absorbing protection as you move about, and more pain and discomfort.

And a weakening of the spinal discs can even result in herniations and disc degenerative disease in more serious cases.

Weakened Core Muscles = Less Support For Your Spine

​Certain muscles in your body play a vital role in keeping your back strong and supported.

As your back relies on your core, abdominal, groin, glutes, and hamstring muscles to help it manage it's daily workload.

So to maximise this support you need to keep these muscles strong, flexible, and loose.

And to do this you need to remain active and be moving around.

Unfortunately, sitting down in the same position for hours on end will have the opposite effect.

As this will cause your muscles to weaken and stiffen up, which will mean less support and more pressure being placed on your lower back.

This can also cause muscle imbalances to develop in your body, which can give you posture problems and pile even more pressure onto your back.

And leave you in even more pain!

Sitting With An Unhealthy Posture = More Pressure On Your Back

Speaking of posture problems, many of us get into bad habits when sitting and do so with an unhealthy posture.

So whether you're lounging on the couch or slouching in your office chair, this can be disastrous for your back.

Because it adds pressure and strain onto your body which is the last thing you need!

In fact, poor posture itself is a very common cause of lower back pain.

And it's not just your lower back that will feel the struggle from sitting with a bad posture.

As this will also likely lead to pain in your neck, shoulders, and upper back too.

So rather than slouching and sitting with an unhealthy 'C' curve in your spine, aim to sit with a more healthy and natural 'S' curve instead.

Further Dangers Of Sitting For Extended Periods

Unfortunately the bad news from sitting doesn't end with back pain.

As sitting down for extended periods can cause many more health problems over time than just a bad back.

For instance it can also lead to:

  • Neck and shoulder pain.
  • Tight and painful hips and joints.
  • A loss of bone mass over time from the lack of activity.
  • Deep vein thrombosis and varicose veins due to poor circulation in the legs when sitting.
  • Obesity as sitting slows down your metabolism.
  • And this slower metabolism also contributes to other problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood-sugar levels.
  • These higher blood-sugar levels increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
  • And there is also an increased risk of suffering cardiovascular problems such as angina, chest pains, and even heart attacks.
  • You also have a higher chance of getting prostate and breast cancer.
  • And a lower life expectancy.

So as you can see, there is some seriously scary stuff on that list.

However, most of the more serious issues develop after years or decades spent sitting in a chair for 6 hours or more each day.

But it's still important that you learn how to counteract the effects from sitting and make sure they don't happen to you.

So How Can You Sit Without Getting Back Pain?

Ok, it's all well and good me telling you the pitfalls of sitting and how bad it can be for your back and health in general.

But what can you do to stop it?​

The answer may seem to be a simple one: Get off your backside and stop sitting down so much!

But for some of us having to sit down regularly may be unavoidable due to our jobs.

However, if this rings true for you don't panic!

Because there are things you can do to keep your back healthy while sitting at work such as:

  • Taking microbreaks every hour to stretch and mobilise your body.
  • Stretching your body out regularly to stay flexible, balanced, and to relieve tension.
  • Maintaining a healthy sitting posture so the pressure of sitting is spread out evenly across your body..
  • Keeping your core muscles strong so they can support your back by staying active and exercising outside work.
  • Using an ergonomic office chair to take the pressure off your body as you sit.
  • Alternating between sitting and standing by using a sit/stand desk.

All of these will lead to an improvement and keep your back happier.

Click here to find out more about these techniques.

Rounding Up

I hope this article has given you new found respect for office workers and you now see them for the lower back pain warriors that they are!

Because sitting all day is a tough gig.

As not only can it cause you to get back, neck, and shoulder pain, it can also lead to far more serious problems such as cardiovascular disease.

However, by getting into some good habits as you sit you can protect yourself against this evil.

And hopefully make back pain when sitting a thing of the past.


Resources used in researching this article:

​https://www.spine-health.com/blog/poor-posture-causing-your-back-pain

https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/sitting-and-sedentary-behaviour-are-bad-for-your-health.aspx​

https://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2015/05/08/sitting-too-long.aspx​

http://www.artofmanliness.com/2009/06/21/30-days-to-a-better-man-day-22-improve-your-posture/

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Daniel

I'm a psychology graduate and a veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help people learn how to fight back against persistent back pain just like I have.

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