Is the way you sit causing your back pain?

By Ron Handshoe, MSPT
ApexNetwork Physical Therapy

After working all day, there is nothing you look forward to more than being able to sit and relax. You get home, and kick back in your recliner to read the paper or take a nap. An hour or so later, when you get up to make your way to the dinner table, you notice your back feels stiffer and sorer than when you left work.

Most people attribute the stiffness and soreness to the labors of their job. It couldn’t be related to the way you were sitting, could it?

Poor posture can create undue stress on the muscles, ligaments, tendons and discs that support your body. When a poor posture is held for long periods of time, these tissues can become overstretched. Often, pain related to poor posture doesn’t occur immediately. However, consistent poor posture can slowly damage tissue, resulting in pain that seems to have started for no reason.

Two of the seven ergonomic risk factors that associated with back pain are sustained posture and awkward posture. Sustained posture simply means remaining in the same position for a long period of time. This can easily be corrected simply by frequent position changes. Every 30 minutes or so, get up from your chair and stretch, take a walk, go to the fountain and get a drink of water, or just stand at your desk.

Awkward posture, or postures that move the joints into weird positions, can also be fixed, but this frequently requires adopting new habits and adjusting your seating to better fit you and your work.

Better sleep posture
When asleep, our bodies automatically signal time to change position. Have you ever awakened in the middle of the night with a sore shoulder or hip? Or perhaps numbness or tingling in the hands? That’s your body way of telling you to change position.

The most important thing about sleep posture is maintaining proper spinal alignment. You can do this by placing a pillow between your knees when lying on your side, or under your knees when lying on your back.

Avoid flexing your wrists and elbows under your body, as this can compromise circulation and create pressure on the nerves.

Avoiding prolonged sleeping on your stomach also can reduce neck pain, as this position requires you to turn your head almost as far as you can. This can cause neck stiffness and loss of motion.

Avoid sleeping with multiple pillows under your head. This can cause extreme neck flexion, which can lead to overstretched soft tissues and pain. One pillow is ideal for providing optimal support of the head and neck. The most important aspect of a good pillow is that it keeps your neck fairly straight.

Better seated posture
When we’re awake, we tend to pay less attention to the signals our body sends as we are often multitasking, concentrating on something, or we just choose to ignore the signals. People whose jobs require long periods of sitting may remain in the same position for hours on end, ignoring the growing ache in their backs and necks. By the time they begin to respond to the discomfort, the pain can be quite intense and not easily relieved.

But simple changes to postural habits can prevent/eliminate this pain.

The first item to be addressed is the chair. You spend a lot of time in the chair, so it’s important that it be adjusted properly. The seat height should be such that your feet rest flat on the floor. Your hips, knees and elbows should be at 90-degree angles, or slightly less. If you are shorter than 5 feet, 5 inches, you may require a foot rest to allow the appropriate chair height for the desk while allowing your feet to rest on the floor.

Once you have achieved the correct chair height, it’s time to tackle computer positioning. The keyboard and monitor should be directly in front of you, not to the side or corner of the desk. This eliminates the need for users to twist their trunks or necks to view the screen.

Monitors should be positioned so that the top of the screen is at eye level. Often, monitors are too low, causing the user to bend or slump forward. If your monitor is too low, raise it. A simple fix is to place a book or a ream of copy paper under the monitor. You can also purchase a monitor stand if you are so inclined.

The optimal distance between you and the screen is 22 inches. This will help eliminate eye strain. Wrist supports at the keyboard can help maintain a neutral position, which is especially important if your job requires a lot of typing.

When seated, the goal is to maintain neutral alignment of the spine. This means keeping the natural curve at the neck and low back. A lumbar roll can help to achieve this posture. The roll should measure 1½ to 2 inches in diameter, with pressure applied. Remember when sitting to scoot all the way back in the seat before placing the roll in position at the small of your back. This ensures the most support for the curve of your back.

It’s not necessary to spend a lot of money to get a good lumbar roll. In fact, you can make your own simply by rolling up a hand towel or cutting off a small section of a pool noodle. You can also find lumbar rolls online.

As “comfortable” as the overstuffed furniture and recliner may feel, they aren’t good for your back; they allow the lower back to sag into a slouch, which places stress on the surrounding soft tissues. Further, these furniture styles tend to have pillows at the head that push the head and neck forward, creating stress on the soft tissues of the neck.

These ergonomic principles also apply to your vehicle. Remember, we come in all different shapes and sizes, so the standard lumbar support found in your vehicle may not actually fit you. If this is the case, deflate the lumbar support in your vehicle seat and use a separate lumbar roll.

We hope you will find these suggestions helpful in reducing or eliminating discomfort or allow you to avoid future problems.

If you are experiencing back pain or other muscle or joint discomfort, Apex Network PT offers complimentary screenings, no referral is necessary. This direct access to your physical therapist, provides immediate access to a specialist who can expertly coordinate your plan of care. To find out more, visit or call any of our offices in Kentucky.

ApexNetwork Physical Therapy Now in Morehead

ApexNetwork Physical Therapy is pleased to announce the opening of its newest Kentucy office, located in the Kroger Center, Morehead.

ApexNetwork PT Morehead features a strong staff of industrial specialists who offer unparalleled preventive programs and remarkable care for those suffering from work-related injuries.

The office also provides advanced capabilities in orthopedic manual therapy, strength and conditioning, and rehabilitation. We welcome new patients, no physician referral needed.

ApexNetwork PT Morehead
272 Kroger Center Drive
(606) 393-0304

Check Also

Did You Know You Can Improve Your Bone Density With Physical Therapy?

Did You Know You Can Improve Your Bone Density With Physical Therapy?

By Kaylee Weber, PT, DPT, Clinic Manager ApexNetwork Physical Therapy – Gillespie, IL Clinic October …