Why It Hurts When You Sit & What You Should Do

By Sherwin Nicholson | SN Health Resources | Updated November 20, 2017

lower back pain and sitting

If your back hurts when you sit, you’re among the majority who have grown to tolerate it.

However, if you are beyond the minor, daily, aches and pains and both rest & medication are no longer effective, then you need to make some serious changes with your lifestyle.

Did you really say serious?

Yes! It is that serious.  Don’t ignore the warnings of the symptoms of minor back pain.  Sitting is now officially considered one of top health risks in our society.  Most likely you have said at least at one time: “My back hurts when I sit for a long time”.  It’s is well worth the time and effort to learn about what is going on with your body as you sit.

The Main Culprits

Your longer working hours, physically demanding careers, intense activities, traveling longer distances and extended time sitting, is worsening your pain and has ultimately become a chronic issue.

The most common times are at the office, driving & on the ‘screens.’  As much as we feel that we are more productive in our lives and for the sake of others, there is a physical cost for it every time.

While one can appreciate the benefits of sitting for rest and productivity, it inevitably contributes to a risk of lower back pain.  To get a greater understanding, you should know what happens with your back while first standing and then sitting:

If you’re feeling a lot of pain when you’re at work or driving, then you should learn how this simple technique can help you when it hurts to sit.

The Effect on Your Body

When you stand, the extrinsic and intrinsic muscles of your back (along with the abdominal muscles) regularly contract and relax to maintain your posture, neutral curve, and natural pelvic tilt.

These muscles consist of all of the muscles of your back from the pelvis to the base of your skull.  It is the deeper, smaller and less visible intrinsic muscles that run along your entire spine and make several adjustments and corrections while you stand to maintain your posture and balance.

As you sit, there is a significant change in the need for these muscles to give support.  When seated with a backrest, the intrinsic and abdominal muscles are no longer active.  They cease to support your lower back as it rests.

Backrests on a chair are generally are bad idea as they only encourages you to relax when upright.  This is bad for your back.  They actually make you lazy and much less likely to remain upright actively.

While sitting can seem like a preferred alternative to standing, it has its mechanical drawbacks.

Without adequate lumbar support from these muscles, your neutral curve is lost, causing disc imbalance.  Here, your upper body weight bears down on your lower discs while unsupported.

Weight on each disc becomes uneven, and disc bulge occurs.  The extrinsic and intrinsic muscles (which are smaller and shorter) become weaker and overstretched.  Using the back support found in all chairs also reduces circulation to these muscles as you lay against them.

Poor Mechanics Affect the Muscles that Protect Your Back

Most of us do not sit upright properly, and over time, may slouch while seated.  Here the pelvis develops a posterior tilt, leading to greater disc imbalance and risk or injury.

Placing our arms and hands on the table, keyboard or steering wheel, for example, allows us to relax our upper body further.  Relaxing exacerbates the curve in our spine as we bear down more of the weight of our upper body.  Our natural and balanced lumbar S-shaped curve becomes a C-shaped curve.

Other muscles like the abdominals and the transverse abdominus relax, resulting in less support.  Hamstring and quadricep muscles become progressively shorter (and weaker).  The progression causes them to pull on the pelvis during activity, thereby reducing our pelvic mobility.

With less pelvic mobility, the lower back compensates by bending and moving more than needed when we are engaged in daily activity.

Neglectful Effects

Extended periods of sitting lead to shortened hip flexors, especially our psoas muscles.  This muscle attaches from your femur to your lumbar spine and shortens as you sit.  A tight psoas is a well-known contributor to lower back pain.

A known condition called Adaptive Shortening Syndrome happens where muscles chronically shorten and weaken making standing and sitting both painful.  If you have any chronic back pain, you most likely have this condition.

The discomfort felt from these tight muscles are more noticeable while standing or actively moving.  Muscles tend to shorten when either underused or overused.  It is rare that they will return to their original, desired length unless you adopt a safe practice for stretching them.

Without adequate treatment, this discomfort may cause some to rely on the use of medication, poor stretching, unhelpful exercises, or merely to accept the pain as minor and tolerable.  If there is no change to these habits, the muscles and discs will continue to bear this load and suffer, leading to chronic pain that is difficult to manage.

When your pain becomes difficult to manage you may end up with radicular pain such as with sciatica so it is important to spot any symptoms.

Virtually all of the mentioned muscles groups support and protect the lumbar spine while standing or in motion but are affected by the simple act of sitting.

Sitting may provide needed relief, but it is important to be self-aware about the effect it has on you.

Tips: What you can do about it.

10 Exercise Tips Everyone Should Follow To Maintain A Healthy Back

By altering our sitting habits and following these 10 exercise tips to become better physically conditioned, you’ll reduce or minimize your discomfort and risk of lower back injury when you have to sit.  Lower back pain from sitting can be reduced or eliminated by following many specific stretches and exercises.

Begin by following this stretch exercise for sitting whenever you feel discomfort. You can do it anywhere when seated easily for 1 minute per side for every 30 minutes of sitting.

Download and get started with an easy to follow, affordable, instructional guide to relieving your pain.  It will help you with both your pain and many other mechanical causes of lower back pain.

“Of the exercises are simple and quick, and I can complete at work while sitting at my back. Overall this is a good book to read if you truly are interested in exercises to relieve lower back pain.”

 “I started noticing a difference in my back within three days.”

Don’t just stop at this article.  There’s more ways to help your back:

Exercises for Lower Back Pain When Sitting

Too much sitting can lead to Adaptive Shortening (which will keep you in pain)

Don’t let your job (of sitting) ruin your life

Try this simple piriformis stretch to help you




Herniated disc/Slipped Disk-http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001478/

Chronic low back pain and its association with lumbar vertebrae and intervertebral disc changes in adults. A case control study. – Karunanayake AL1, Pathmeswaran A2, Wijayaratne LS3. Int J Rheum Dis. 2017 Feb 16. doi: 10.1111/1756-185X.13026

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