A 53-year-old female office worker developed lower and mid back pain six months ago after an increase in working hours with deadlines to meet. She could sit for five minutes before the pain started and it worsened through the day.
She was perch sitting, maintaining an upright rigid spine with very tense back muscles. When I pushed on her back muscles it produced her pain. Her breathing was quick and shallow, and she was bracing through her core.
I showed her how to sit back in the chair, breathe calmly and rhythmically into her belly and soften her posture. We changed her seat position in relation to the desk, so she didn’t overreach and could rest her forearms on the desk.
She quickly reported a reduction of pain, and palpation of her back was much less tender and more relaxed. She sat through the rest of the appointment without having to get up and change position.
Is Sitting Evil?
The evils of sitting have had a lot of press coverage recently. It’s not healthy when we do too much sitting, but it’s not dangerous, and unhealthy habits don’t have to be painful.
We are led to believe that sitting causes a strain on our bodies and we should take precautions to prevent damage. When sitting is uncomfortable, we often think we’re doing ourselves harm. The good news is this isn’t true. When I work with people who aren’t sitting comfortably, a lack of relaxation is a common theme.
Causes of this can be:
- Trying to sit with a “correct” posture, a straight spine and maintaining it for long periods.
- Perching on the front of the chair to make our core work harder.
- Engaging the core to protect the spine because “sitting is bad for me”
- Stress at home or at work
All of these things can lead to stressed sitting.
The Stress and Pain Cycle
Whatever the cause, being stressed can lead to physical tension, breath holding and discomfort. Don’t believe me? Take your normal hand and wrist, clench it hard and hold it. What happens eventually? If you hold it for several minutes, you’ll feel tension and pain which spreads to your elbow, shoulder and neck.
This is your system’s attempt to protect itself, which can make your back and neck tissues more sensitive and lead to pain.
This cycle can give you increasing pain and discomfort, reduced concentration and productivity, days off work with pain, issues with your employer and misery!
Myths about Sitting
Sitting is harmful to the spine.
Sitting doesn’t harm your spine, your alignment or your body. The loads on the spine when you sit are not harmful.
If something hurts, tissue damage is occurring
Pain and damage are not the same things. If you have a headache or stub your toe, you haven’t injured yourself. Most pain episodes don’t involve injury or tissue damage.
It’s good to work at perfect posture
A perfect or safe posture doesn’t exist. Our spines are designed to move and bend and they get stronger and more flexible with practice.
Maintaining a straight spine is important
Each individual prefers a position that requires the least effort to maintain. An upright spine might suit one person while another person prefers to sit slumped.
Engaging your core and working at your posture is a good thing
The brain is clever and knows when to engage your core. People with back pain have been shown to have an overactive core, not an underactive core. It’s like permanently clenching your fist and expecting your hand to work normally and without pain.
We need a bespoke workspace to be comfortable
The body is far more adaptable than a chair or a desk. If you know how to be comfortable you can avoid the need for expensive equipment.
Sitting comfortably is difficult
Sitting comfortably is easy to achieve. A few simple steps practised regularly can make a big difference.
How to Sit Comfortably
- Be aware – If we are aware of our bad habits when we’re sitting, we can change them and improve. Examples are perch sitting, engaging the core, breath holding, avoiding bending over and sitting for too long.
- Change – Changing habits takes some time and effort. Be prepared to work at it.
- Allow sitting to be restful – let the chair do the work, relax into the backrest and soften your posture.
- Relax – breathe into your belly with a slow, calm, rhythm to settle your system
- Motion is lotion – get up often and move around. Bend over, swing your arms around, use the stairs, walk at lunchtime, and take a lunch break! Movement, exercise and mental breaks reduce pain and stiffness.
- Don’t be afraid of sitting, just enjoy a rest. Sitting can be restful and allows your system to switch off. You can learn to do this with practice
We really can be comfortable when we sit, it only takes a little know-how, time and effort. If you struggle to get comfortable despite your best efforts, work at the ideas I have suggested above and you’ll improve.
I hope you’re more comfortable now when you sit. However, if you’d like some help getting comfortable just contact me for a consultation and I’d be delighted to help.
- Call me on 07779 253999
- Email me on firstname.lastname@example.org