Sitting and Back Pain

Sitting and back pain are two factors that are closely related, due to the amount of stress that this seemingly harmless position places on the lower back. Sitting is even understood to place more stress on the back than standing, walking, and even lifting heavy objects. Sitting is especially hazardous to us when we remain in our chairs for hours on end, with very little break between sitting sessions. Why is this activity/position so hazardous to us? The associated hazards with sitting have to do with the physiology of the human body and what they are actually designed to do. Besides sleeping, our bodies are designed to be constantly on the move as we work and interact with a constantly changing environment.

The problem with sitting is immobility. Our bodies are not designed to be immobile for long periods of time. Our bodies are designed to be used, and when we don't use them, certain tissues will atrophy. We must either use it or lose it, and this is especially true for the muscles that move and support the spine. What happens to people who remain bedridden for long periods of time? Bedsores develop. What happens to muscles inside of parts of the body that have been casted, due to broken bones or surgery? The muscles have withered away, and must be built back up again.

Nature and/or god have given us life. From there, we must move about our worlds actively in order to maintain it. When we strap ourselves to our desks and remain immobilized in it for extended periods throughout the day, our backs suffer for it. The muscles in and around the spine need physical and neurological stimulation so that the various structures in our backs may thrive. Sitting and back pain have become closely associated when we don't incorporate other activities and movements into our workday. These factors are even more closely associated with we sit badly in our chairs. Bad posture related to sitting includes office chairs that are not set up for good back support and body mechanics. Let's take a look at how to work in an office environment without wearing out your back.

The most important piece of furniture for a safe office environment is an ergonomic office chair. An ergonomic office chair fully supports that back and allows you the ability to maintain good posture while sitting. A good chair will allow you the ability to adjust the height of the seat and of the arm rests you will use to write and use the keyboard at your desk. Here are a few rules of thumb to go by that will apply to all office workers:
  • A person should be able to sit directly in front of their phone, computer, and work environment without having to lean or hunch forwards. Any type of slouching position will add stress to the lumbar spine.
  • A person should be able to easily reach for anything they need at their desk or work environment without having to lunge for it.
  • The entire body should be oriented at a series of 90 degree angles relative to itself and the floor. That means that the feet will be flat to the ground, the knees and elbows will be bent at a 90 degree angle, and the forearm and hand will be parallel to the ground. The neck should remain straight and erect for all office work and the head should remain forward to the work directly in front of it. A person's work responsibilities shouldn't require any forward leaning, twisting, or tilting to get all of the work done.
Here are two healthy and beneficial guidelines for office chair setup:
  1. Lower Back Support: All of your lower back should be pressed against the seat behind it, with no spaces in between. This contact with the back of the chair should remain for all workplace tasks. If your office chair doesn't provide this low back support, than you should invest in a chair or a back cushion. Your lower back should be arched as you sit in your chair.
  2. Calf Measure: The distance between the back of your calf and the front of the seat of the chair should be at least the size of a balled up fist. Use your own fist to measure if your chair is providing you with this much room. If it isn't, you should adjust the backrest forward. If your chair doesn't offer you this much adjustability, then you may improvise by using a rolled up towel or pillow or lumbar support cushion. Or you could invest in a new office chair.