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Why Your Lower Back Hurts When Sitting and What to Do About It

Introduction

There are a handful of reasons why your lower back may hurt while sitting, so it’s impossible for an article on the internet such as this to explain to you exactly why your back hurts, but since there are only a limited number of reasons why back pain comes on with sitting, this article will attempt to explain them and give common sense suggestions for things you can do to help yourself.

Often, small and simple things done consistently make changes that are bigger than you may imagine.

Note: If you are having back pain and also pain down your leg, tingling or numbness in your leg or toes, tingling in the groin region, or you have lost the ability to control your bowels and/or bladder, these are considered red flags and you should seek medical attention.

For the rest of you reading this article (which is likely the vast majority), let’s continue by looking at the common reasons why the lower back can hurt while sitting.

Why is there lower back pain with sitting?

If there is pain with sitting, there are a few things we have to think through to understand what is going on and what we can do ourselves.

For example:
Why is there pain? Does pain mean damage? Are tissues being damaged from sitting in a certain way and that’s why it hurts? Does that mean I should be sitting in a particular way that I am apparently am not sitting in, but that I should? If so, what is that position?

Let’s discuss a bit about pain to work through these thoughts.

It’s important to understand that pain doesn’t necessarily mean something is being damaged.

Think about a time you tried to grab something hot off the stove and it hurt but you didn’t actually burn your finger.

You had pain, but the skin didn’t actually get damaged.

You have sensors in your finger that can sense temperature (a type of nerve ending called a thermoreceptor) and they send signals to your brain to warn you to not touch that thing which may cause damage if continually exposed.

That signal can be interpreted as pain and so you move your hand quickly, often as a reflex that doesn’t even go to your brain (it goes to your spinal cord and loops back to the muscles, causing your hand to withdraw, which is why you will move your hand first and feel the pain second).

Pain doesn’t have to be from something being injured or damaged. It can be a warning sign to listen to in order to make some sort of change to how your physical body is interacting with the environment (sitting slouched forward with your neck bent weird, for example, is a way you may be interacting with your environment that your discomfort is telling you not to do but you are not interpreting correctly).

Pain can mean damage though, but it doesn’t always mean that.

For lower back pain with sitting, then, it’s probably that you are just stressing something for too long and your body is telling you to move positions, or there could be a little bit of tissue irritation if you’ve been ignoring the signs for a long time and overloading your body.

The good news is the basic things in this article will help pretty much anyone who has pain with sitting.

The key is this: don’t stay in any one particular position too long. The body likes to move. Sitting 8 hours in the same position all day with very few, if any, intentional breaks is not a good strategy to use.

I would argue ‘too long’ is 20 minutes in the same exact position.

Is There a ‘Right Way’ to Sit?

Everything we do is a stress. If I sit up perfectly straight it is stressful in a particular way.

If I sit slouched forward, it is also stressful in a particular way.

Those are the two main ways most people sit.

  1. Sort of slouched over in a variety of ways
  2. In the ‘ideal’ position

'Ideal’ is in quotes because I don’t think there is an ideal position. I think this ‘ideal’ position is one in which the bones and joints are positioned to balance your skeleton so you don’t need much muscular contraction and you are not putting tensional stress on the spinal ligaments.

This just means you are stressing some things in a certain way instead of other things. You can more comfortably sit this way for a longer time because it’s less stressful to certain tissues.

In this video below, I discuss how you can effortlessly sit in this particular way that positions you to not need much muscular contraction and to not put tension on your ligaments.

This is a very easy way to sit up straight, which can be one of the variety of positions you sit in throughout the day.

Take Small Breaks

Changing sitting positions every 20-30 minutes is a generally great idea.

Even better is if every 20-30 minutes you can stand up and move around for even 30 seconds.

By switching sitting positions, be that going from slouched to sitting up straight, or going from sitting up straight to slouched, or sitting slouched on the right side to sitting slouched on the left side, you change which tissues are put under tension.

By varying this through changing the exact position you are sitting in, or by getting up and moving around a bit (preferred), you change which tissues are under tension.

When a tissue is under stretch, that stretch decreases the ability to have blood circulate through the tissue because it is tight and tight, stretched out vessels don’t have the same capacity for flow as vessels that are looser.

When something is loose or held in a shortened position, blood circulates more easily.

Our bodies do best when we are circulating blood and lymph regularly to keep the fluids ‘fresh’, so to speak.

So, take little breaks every 20-30 minutes by getting up, moving around a little and getting into a little different position.

I personally use an app called BeFocusedPro that is a timer where you can set what task you are working on, how long you want your work intervals to be, and how long you want your breaks to me.

I do 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off, and get up and stretch around a little during those 5 minutes, and return to a little different position. If I feel any discomfort before those 25 minutes are up, I will move around a bit to not experience discomfort or feelings of tightness.

Bites of Movement

During micro-breaks, you can do some easy, basic movements to move your lower back joints.

The first one I suggest is a cat cow.

Here is a video of me teaching how I suggest performing a cat cow:

The second one I suggest is more extension based to offset the flexion in sitting, which you can do in a kneeling hip flexor stretch.

Here is a video of me teaching how I suggest performing the kneeling hip flexor stretch:

There are a variety of other movements you can do for hip and low back mobility, but those are two easy ones you can start with.

Next Steps and What Else to Try

Pain with sitting may not mean there is any sort of damage.

For most people it is their body sending a signal telling them to change position to give the tissues under tension a break.

For this reason, try taking a little break every 20-30 minutes (using a timer helps).

Try changing positions frequently throughout the day.

Try the technique in the video earlier in this article on the easiest way to sit up straight to position yourself in a low tension position.

If you want more ideas for how to work on your hip and low back mobility, you may enjoy our Ultimate Hip Mobility Article.

If you want a structured program you can follow to help guide you through working on your hip and lower back mobility and performing self-care, you may be interested in our Hip and Low Back Mobility Program.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to share this article with people who you think would benefit from this information.

-Ryan

Need help with your lower back and hip mobility?

Follow our program, which will show you exactly what to do and how

Lower back and hip mobility program product photo
Lower back and hip mobility program product photo

Need help with your lower back and hip mobility?

Follow our program, which will show you exactly what to do and how

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