If you sit for long hours during work, you may find yourself wondering “why do I have low back pain while sitting?” Low back pain while sitting is one of the most common onsets of low back pain. The simple answer is that staying in any position too long, like sitting, causes stiffness and mechanical problems to develop in your lower back.
Okay, but what is actually developing in your lower back to cause pain? This is the real question. I’m going to answer your question and explain three reasons sitting is causing your back pain.
Sitting Puts More Pressure on Your Lumbar Intervertebral Discs
Depending on your posture, sitting puts anywhere from 40% to 90% more pressure on your lumbar discs. Discs are one of the most common sites of back injury and pain and for most people one of the scariest low back problems to have.
Lumbar intervertebral discs are jelly-filled structures between your spinal vertebrae that, in simple terms, act as shock absorbers of your spine. When you sit, your body weight shifts to be moreso over top of them compared to the joints in the back of your spine.
Typically this isn’t a huge issue, but over time it may become one. Many of us have lumbar discs that aren’t equipped to handle this extra load. Lumbar discs are prone to weakening along their outside edges, especially near when your spinal nerves exit your spine. In these locations, they are not supported by long flat ligaments that help keep them contained around their other edges.
When the outside fibers of your lumbar discs stretch or tear, the jelly-like substance inside is pushed outwards and creates a mechanical or chemical irritation of spinal nerve roots. This can cause low back pain but it is also a common reason for complaints like sciatica or “pinched nerves.”
It’s also important to know that discs don’t have their own blood supply. Your discs rely on the surrounding structures to receive the nutrition that keeps them healthy. Movement (like exercise) helps move nutrients into lumbar discs to keep them healthy. When you’re sitting for a long time, lack of movement can contribute to thinning of the discs.
You should know that sitting itself isn’t terrible. When you sit for a long time, as you do at a desk job, it’s not great for your low back. Employers are starting to recognize that and that’s why you see many workspaces adding sit/stand transition desks. These allow you to change positions from sitting to standing frequently. This movement is healthier for your lumbar discs.
Sitting for a Long Time Causes Muscles to Get Tight and Weak
When you sit, certain muscles go into a shortened and unloaded position. Over time your muscles adjust to this and become tight. One of the common muscles involved in cases of low back pain is the iliopsoas muscle.
The iliopsoas is commonly referred to as the “hip flexor.” It travels from your thigh to your lower back. When you sit you give slack to the hip flexor muscle. After sitting for a long time your hip flexor adjusts and becomes tight. Then, when you go to stand it’s almost like you’re stretching it beyond where it wants to go. This makes your hip flexor feel tight and painful.
Since your psoas attaches to your low back, it can pull your lumbar spine forward and cause poor low back posture and movement. Hip flexor tightness is probably one of the most common complaints in desk workers. This symptom is often an early sign of future low back pain.
Sitting for extended periods can also contribute to poor gluteal muscle activity. Your glutes are important muscles for pelvic stability and hip extension. When your hips are flexed for long periods they often become weak or underactive.
Sitting for a Long Time Contributes to Deconditioning
While you’re sitting, muscles in your low back, hips, and pelvis are fairly inactive. After years, hours of sitting will cause what’s called deconditioning. This is especially true if you’re inactive and don’t exercise. Muscles get lazy, weak, and underactive when you don’t use them.
Your glutes are a great example of muscles that become deconditioned after sitting for hours for years. The glutes are involved in hip stabilization and hip extension. When you’re sitting, there’s no demand for hip stabilization and the hips are flexed forward.
Standing produces more activation in the glutes because they’re required to stabilize your pelvis and keep you standing up. Walking produces even more activation because your glutes are extending your hips. Weight lifting is a great example of a way to prevent glute deconditioning.
Overall, exercise is the best strategy for both preventing and treating low back pain. Strength training, especially, is important in keeping important muscles in your hip and back strong and active. Lifting weights can help you better tolerate long periods of sitting if you can’t avoid it.
Can a Chiropractor Help Low Back Pain While Sitting?
A chiropractor is the best provider to see if you’re having low back pain while sitting. Our Cary chiropractors can help answer your questions like:
- How do you know if lower back pain is serious?
- How do you know if lower back pain is muscular?
- When should I be worried about lower back pain?
Our Cary chiropractic clinic performs comprehensive exams on all patients to determine what is causing your low back pain, what treatment is best for your low back pain (even if it’s not our treatment), and how to prevent low back pain while sitting.
Chiropractic care for low back pain, in the majority of cases, has better outcomes when compared to surgery, medications, or shots. Chiropractic care is also safe in comparison to other medical treatments. Patients typically get better faster and report higher satisfaction with chiropractors than other providers.
If you’re struggling with low back pain while sitting feel free to reach out with questions or schedule an appointment online here.