One out of four US adults sits more than 40 hours a week and risks back pain
Sitting is nothing new to humanity. In fact, sitting down after hours of hard work can feel incredibly soothing. Just like anything else, though, too much sitting gradually becomes a problem. Back pain is one of the top issues that modern-day working society faces.
Unlike the old days of hunting and gathering, we have become increasingly sedentary in our daily life. In a study of 6,000 American adults, one in four participants reported that they sit for more than eight hours a day. This applies to most industries — from a traditional office job that binds us to a chair and desk to more exciting occupations such as piloting a helicopter.
The result is that we end up suffering from severe pain in our upper and lower back. Our mobility decreases, and whenever we do have the time to exercise, we don’t want to because it simply hurts too much. Even though back pain is not deadly, it can certainly make our lives miserable. But don’t worry — there are ways to alleviate the issue and regain your health.
How does sitting cause back pain?
According to the US National Library of Medicine, lower back pain (LBP) is one of the most common disorders among the world’s adult population. While it may not sound particularly dangerous, prolonged periods of lower back pain are the leading cause of disability in adults younger than 45. That’s more than a quarter of the US population reports suffering from LBP each year. Lower back pain is further exacerbated by exposure to whole-body vibration and remaining in awkward postures for large chunks of the day. What does that mean?
Imagine a helicopter pilot. They need to be in the driver’s seat for hours on end while experiencing the aircraft’s vibration throughout the journey. The pose becomes awkward after about two hours. The human body is meant to be upright, and in the case of the pilot, there is no way they can get up and go for a walk on the job. Prolonged sitting coupled with vibration and a stagnant pose creates the perfect storm.
Not only would the person in this situation feel persistent lower back pain, but they are also very likely to develop sciatica.
Lower back pain and sciatica
Have you ever been jolted out of your chair by sharp lower back pain? If so, you’re very likely dealing with sciatica. The Cleveland Clinic defines sciatica as an acute pain caused by irritation, inflammation, compression, or pinching of a lower back nerve. This condition affects your sciatic nerve, which is the longest and thickest in the human body. This nerve is made up of five roots — the lumbar spine (two nerve roots from the lower back area) and three from the sacrum (bottom part of the spine).
The sciatic nerve runs from your hips down to your glutes, down your leg, and ends just below your knee. Furthermore, the sciatic nerve branches out into smaller sections that continue down to your leg and foot. With that in mind, you can imagine how painful moving would be if your sciatic nerve were pinched or inflamed.
About 40% of US adults report suffering from sciatica and back pain is the main culprit. Don’t wait to feel numb or worse — shocking waves of pain in your hips and legs. Getting active is the best preventative measure. Try to get up from your desk and move as much as possible. If you need to make phone calls at the office, try doing those while moving. Sneak in ten squats every hour or a short exercise session whenever possible.
This doesn’t have to be sweaty. Choose compound moves like front and side lunges and squats and perform them around the office. These don’t require any jumping, so you can do them without ruining your work clothes.
10 tips for relieving back pain due to sitting
The bad news is that if you work a traditional office job, you are likely to suffer from back pain. The majority of the world is in the same boat. The good news is that you can help relieve the symptoms. If you apply these ten tips, you will feel a dramatic improvement shortly.
Remember to consult a doctor before trying out any exercises to make sure you won’t make things worse.
Tighten up your core
If you exercise regularly, you are much less likely to suffer from back pain. Opt for core-tightening exercises like pilates, sit-ups, planks, glute bridges, and push-ups. This way, you’ll strengthen your muscles and become more flexible and less prone to the adverse side effects of sitting.
In a study of 1,562 corporate employees in Ontario, scientists found that those who did not exercise their core and had weak abdominal muscles were a whopping 60% more likely to develop lower back pain.
Don’t sit down when your back hurts
When sudden back pain strikes, we tend to sit down and wait it out. According to Harvard, however, this is the wrong approach. When you sit down, you put pressure on your vertebrae and discs. Try lying down instead. It is a lot easier on your spine and will relax you out of the pain.
Get a massage regularly
Scheduling a weekly massage with a certified physical therapist might be the best investment you can make for your back. Massage therapists know just which points to work on to relieve all pain. It’s not magic — it’s science. Ideally, you should fit in a session once a week, but if you can’t, a twice-monthly massage will still greatly alleviate your back pain.
Get active before work and on your lunch break
The best way to counteract the pain is to be proactive. Walk and bike to and from work if you can and go for a walk around the block on your lunch break. If you use a step tracker, try to aim for 10,000 steps a day or more whenever possible.
Practice these specific yoga poses
Yoga is an ancient form of exercise aimed at improving overall physical wellness and even boosting mental health. There are specific poses that strategically help decrease back pain such as Downward Dog, Child’s Pose, the Sphinx, and more. You can attend a class or simply look up yoga for back pain on the internet and practice at home for free.
Lift weights three times per week
Weightlifting increases the overall strength of your muscles and fortifies your spine. Go to the gym and practice deadlifts, bench presses, and pelvic thrusts. Start easy with five to ten pounds and take it from there. Be mindful of your posture and make sure that your spine is straight and not curved. Bend your knees slightly to remain more flexible throughout the movement.
See a chiropractor
Many people turn directly to a surgeon when back pain strikes. You should always see a chiropractor first. The chiropractor’s job is to align your spine and get everything back in order. It’s far less painful than surgery, a session can take anywhere from a half-hour to an hour, and does not involve any invasive procedures. A monthly session might do wonders for your back pain.
Make sure your shoes are comfortable
Back pain can result from improper posture. You may not realize this, but if you continuously wear uncomfortable shoes, or high heels for the ladies, a simple switch to more comfortable footwear may eliminate your back pain. Opt for sneakers or orthopedic sandals. If you are required to dress formally to work, pack a pair of sneakers to change into before and after.
Foam roll daily
Foam-rolling is a truly underrated form of pain relief. It is also referred to as “self-myofascial release” or “the poor man’s massage.” The fascia is the soft tissue element of your body’s connection system. When it tenses, you experience pain and feel rigid in your movement. Just ten minutes of foam rolling a day can make you more flexible, relieve soreness, and increase your pain threshold.
Apply an ice pack
If you need a quick fix for your sitting-induced back pain, grab an ice pack and apply it on the sore spot for ten to 20 minutes. Keep in mind, though, that this is just putting a metaphorical Band-Aid on the problem and is not a long-term solution.
Disclaimer: The tips provided in this article should not be perceived as professional medical advice. Please consult a medical expert before trying any of the methods listed above, as they may not be suitable for everybody depending on current health status and pre-existing condition.