In a previous piece about back pain, we talked about some of the problems that can occur from sitting for prolonged periods.
A few people have asked me for more advice about how to reduce the strain on their back while sitting. This is an important, especially if your job involves a large amount of desk work.
The first thing to remember is that there is no single ideal sitting position. Many people believe that they “should” sit in a particular way, and sometimes advice about posture can reinforce this myth. To reduce strain on the lower back, it is important to vary your position so that the stresses are distributed, and there is a lower risk of the back becoming overloaded. If you have an ergonomic chair, change the settings regularly to keep your back from becoming fixed in a single position – ideally try and find 3 or 4 comfortable postures that you can switch between every 10-15 minutes throughout the day.
Next – get out of the chair. At least several times an hour, take a mini-break. Stand up, and hold a relaxed standing position for 10-20 seconds. For an additional stretch, reach your hands over your head, and stretch up, pushing towards the ceiling and take a deep breath in. This takes your lower back through a natural range of motion. If you have trouble remembering to switch positions, or to take a break, then set an alarm on your computer or phone until you get into the habit.
Sitting with your lower back is slumped is one of the most stressful positions for your back. To avoid this, try supporting your lower back while sitting, either with your chair’s built in back support or a portable lumbar support - especially if you have a history of chronic back pain. Developing the strength and endurance of your supporting core muscles is also important, and we’ll discuss this more in a future blog.
This video gives some good general advice about setting up your workstation.
For anyone interested in understanding more about the causes and mechanics of lower back pain, as well as how to prevent it, I’d highly recommend Stuart McGill’s book Low Back Disorders.