You’d have thought sitting down would be good for your back. Surely taking the pressure off when you’ve been walking about gives your body a bit of a rest? Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
Sitting down for long periods has been shown to cause many physical problems, including back pain. This is particularly acute if you work in an office or are seated for the majority of the day.
It’s alarming how long we sit without moving at all. A study for BUPA found only one in five workers left their desk during the day to get a drink or go to the toilet (1). Which means an unbelievable 80% of people stay exactly where they are for their entire working day. All day, off their feet.
Add into this equation that a lot of people then spend most of their leisure time on the sofa in front of the TV and you have a worryingly sedentary outcome. By contrast, the British Chiropractic Association recommends you don’t sit for more than 30-40 minutes at a time.
Why is sitting down so bad for my body?
Sitting for long periods can weaken the back muscles, making it harder for your back to work properly.
This isn’t a problem just for office workers and the elderly. Recent research from the British Chiropractic Association shows 40% of 16 to 34 years olds who said they had experienced back or neck pain spent the majority of their time ‘mainly sitting’, while 32% reported back pain was triggered by sitting still for long periods of time.
Sitting is not only bad for your back, it has negative effects on your overall health.
According to Loughborough and Leicester University researchers, sitting for long periods increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and death (3). And the increased risk of all these occurs regardless of whether you go to the gym, as well. This is backed by an Australian study which found “prolonged sitting was a risk factor for all-cause mortality, independent of physical exercise” (4).
In other words, exercise is not enough. Focus on ‘not sitting’ is the key to better health and a more healthy back.
In fact, you could make your back pain even worse by suddenly jolting your body into exercise at the weekend, if you’ve done nothing for the rest of the week.
What can I do to prevent back pain caused by sitting?
Aside from taking a job which requires you to be on your feet most of the day, undoing the effects of being seated for so many hours isn’t easy.
Our advice is to avoid or minimise sitting as much as possible. If you absolutely, positively must sit down, the first thing you should do is ensure your chair is adjusted correctly. Here’s how:
- First, adjust the height of your chair so your feet are flat and your hips are slightly higher than your knees. If possible, adjust the seat base so it can tilt forward as you put more weight through your thighs.
- If the chair has arms, remove these to allow you to move the chair close enough to the desk.
- Adjust the back support downwards to support the sacrum (part of the pelvis). Ensure the lumbar support doesn’t force your back into an exaggerated forward curve.
- Make sure the desk is the correct height relative to the chair. When sitting your elbows should by at right angles in line with the top of the desk.
- Even better… do away with your chair completely and get a standing desk!
Now you’ve adjusted your chair, try to spend as little time in it as possible and minimise any ill-effects by following these easy-to-remember tips:
- Get up on your feet at least once every hour. Go and make a cup of tea or walk around. Just don’t use it as an excuse to go for a cigarette (that’s even worse!).
- Don’t sit down with your wallet in your back pocket.
- If you spent the entire day sitting, avoid sitting all evening when you return home.
- If you have a slouchy sofa, lay on it rather than sit – you should really avoid slouchy sofas if you’re having back issues. Sit on an upright chair, instead.
- Do back exercises. The British Chiropractic Association suggests a short exercise programme to improve posture through strengthening the spine (5). This easy-to-do three minute routine can be done by anyone, whatever the age, and is even good for kids – who spend hours sitting in class during term time. See video below.
- Be more active whenever you can. Use the stairs rather than the lift. Park on the far side of the car park (not only will you get a space more easily, the extra few yards will benefit your muscles, joints and circulation). Walk or cycle to work or to the shops, if possible.
Discover how to help improve your posture by downloading the StraightenUpUK guide packed with information and advice or watch the dedicated video below demonstrating how the exercise routine should be completed.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
- Get Away From Your Desk – British Chiropractic Association https://www.chiropractic-uk.co.uk/get-away-from-your-desk-207-news.aspx
- Don’t sit back – British Chiropractic Association https://www.chiropractic-uk.co.uk/dont-sit-back-196-news.aspx
- Sitting for long periods ‘is bad for your health’ – BBC https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-19910888
- Sitting time and all-cause mortality risk in 222,497 Australian adults https://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1108810
- StraightenUpUK – British Chiropractic Association https://www.chiropractic-uk.co.uk/STRAIGHTENUP/default.aspx?m=1&mi=41&ms=0