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So many of us have experienced back pain at one point or another. Although an ache is sometimes the result of injury or age, it might simply be from improper posture. We spoke with our own physical therapist, Holly Myers, MPT, to find out how we should be sitting throughout the day to maintain proper posture.
Improper Sitting Leads to Back Pain
“Sitting with good posture is the key to reducing back pain from sitting,” explains Myers. “And taking breaks from sitting is almost as important as having good posture when you’re sitting. But when you stand up it’s still important to maintain good posture, too. Proper posture makes the difference between pain and comfort.”
“If you find yourself in a meeting or a similar environment where you can’t take a break to stand for long periods of time, be sure to take a longer break from sitting afterward,” says Myers. “And when you go back to sitting, be aware of your posture and make certain that you’re maintaining good posture.”
Maintaining Proper Posture
When most sit they tend to round out their backs and sit like an elbow macaroni. This position causes the spine to compress and puts pressure on your intervertebral disks. These disks, which act as shock absorbers for your spine, are susceptible to being damaged and sitting this way can cause degeneration of your disks or bulging which can push against your nerves and cause pain. And in a worst-case scenario, they can even rupture which can lead to long-term chronic back pain.
Changing the position of your pelvis when you sit will make an enormous difference in your comfortability sitting down and promotes proper posture. The easiest and best way to sit in this position properly is to bend at the hips when you sit down.
Bending at the Hips
Most people tend to bend at the waist, which when sitting down will lead to the elbow macaroni shape of your spine. But by bending at the hips you’ll be more likely to naturally sit in the proper position.
Changing the way you bend over can be a difficult thing to master but once you’ve learned how, you’ll be able to recognize when you’re not doing it and can try to correct it. Over time it will become second nature.
Physical therapists can teach you how to bend and sit properly to avoid back pain but to start with try standing up and spreading your feet so that your heels are about a foot apart. Next, put your hand flat on your pubic bone and practice bending over. Next, relax the muscles in your back and this should allow the rest of your spinal vertebrae to stack up in a straight line.
If done correctly, your leg muscles will relax. Your quadriceps (the muscles on the front of your thighs) should relax and allow your hamstring (the muscle on the back of your thigh) to stretch.
Bedroom Tips to Maintain Back Health
“Believe it or not, there’s a proper way to get in and out of bed,” says Myers. “People injure themselves all the time getting in and out of bed and this is so easy to avoid if you know the proper way of doing it which is called the log roll.”
To get into bed, sit on the side of your bed with the back of your knees against the mattress. Next, lean toward your pillow which will pull your legs up at the same time and then roll over into bed. To get out of bed, just reverse the order. Roll over, swing your legs over the side, and the rest of your body will follow suit.
- Back Sleeping – Place a pillow under your knees to reduce stress on your lower back
- Side Sleeping – Place a pillow between your knees and under your top arm to keep your spine aligned
- Stomach Sleeping – Place a pillow under your pelvic or hip area to reduce stress on your lower back
Consult an Expert
“Most people don’t know there’s a proper way to sit, stand, bend over, get in and out of bed, etc.” explains Myers. “We should have been born with a back and neck manual to explain all this to us but instead it took us thousands of years to reach the scientific levels that we have today that show us the proper way of doing these things. PTs are essentially the back and neck manual that we should have been issued at birth which is why it’s so important to consult with one.”
“A lot of people will tweak their back or neck and assume that it will get better with time but by not going to see a PT immediately, they make things worse for themselves in the long run. By seeing a PT right away you can get the education and guidance you need to avoid injuring yourself again in the future as well as treat your current pain.”
“PTs, or physical therapists, can also educate you on a healthy office set up to minimize bad habits and promote good posture, as well as providing resources for you to keep with you as reminders. MedBridge is an app for your phone that you can bring with you anywhere to use as a helpful reminder of the lessons your PT taught you to avoid injuries.”
“The best way to avoid back pain overall is to keep active with proper posture to maintain back health.”
If you’re having trouble with chronic back pain or maintaining proper posture, please visit our site or call 407-303-8080 to make an appointment to speak with one of our physical therapists for guidance.
This blog was partially inspired by the excellent reporting at National Public Radio.