The Best Sitting Position for Lower Back Pain

May 28, 2019

Sitting at your desk.
JayDee Vykoukal, DPT

When you're low back hurts, sitting all day might sound like the last thing you want to do. Unfortunately, if you have a job there is probably no way around spending time at a desk. Luckily, there are some easy guidelines to keep in mind when you need to make is through the day. Finding the best sitting position for lower back pain is the best place to start. With the right awareness, lower back pain doesn't stand a chance!

The causes of lower back pain.

There are a few primary reasons that the lower back generates pain. For example, a disc could be injured, joints of the back could be irritated or a muscle could be strained. Additionally, any of these examples (and more) could also be putting excessive pressure on the spinal cored or nerve roots in the back making for a whole mess of symptoms like pain, tingling, and spasms. This can all leave you frustrated and feeling like it's impossible to focus on your daily tasks. For a full guide on lower back pain causes and remedies look here.

The best sitting position for lower back pain.

We are all built a little different so the exact sitting position can vary slightly. Thus, the right posture will require some attention to your symptoms and noting what makes them better and worse. Yet, there are some general tips that can be followed. The spine has specific curves that help it move, stretch and adequately absorb the outside forces we subject it to. When these curves are not well kept (due to issues like poor posture and muscle imbalances) the back will start to protest. This is where finding the best sitting position for lower back pain can be effective. It's as simple as supporting those spine curves to keep your back happy.

Where to start?

  • Good lumbar support. The lower back is meant to have a slight curve into a backwards "C." This can be achieved with a specific chair or be added with use of a lumbar pillow. It can also be as simple as putting a small rolled up towel in the small of the back. Exactly how big this support needs to be varies with your anatomy so play with what feels right. When it is in the right spot it should feel comfortable and easy to sit with a good overall posture (no forward shoulders and head).

  • Hips bent to 75-90 degrees. Adjust the height and recline of your chair so that the feet are flat on the floor while your hips at no more than a 90 degree angle. This angle puts the thighs parallel to the ground. Any deeper of an angle would put the knees closer to your chest and force your lower back into a curved position it won't like. Chair doesn't adjust? Use books or other solid objects to lift your chair or put under your feet to find that sweet spot.

  • Hands resting comfortably on your keyboard. The best sitting position for lower back pain is all about optimal alignment throughout the entire spine. This means even your arms need to be in the right spot. With your chair set as described above, your elbows should be bent to about 90 degrees with the hands easily reaching your keyboard or desk. This means you don't have to hike your shoulders or lean forward (messing up your posture). This can be hard to manage with poorly designed desks and chairs so it may take to creativity with blocks or books on your part. Or it may be time to talk to HR about some new office equipment.

  • Finally, head position. By now, you shouldn't be surprised that head position is also important. With all your other adjustments, having to keep your head in a poor position will throw it all off. Your screen should be adjusted to be able to comfortably see it without having to tilt the head up or down. This is where having an adjustable mount can be very helpful.

The best sitting position for lower back pain is a great place to start. Here are your additional options:

  • Don't sit. Take frequent breaks, try some stretching, or get a standing desk. Prolonged sitting is hard on the back so try to avoid it when possible.

  • Get creative. You might feel like you can't adjust your office equipment to meet your ergonomic needs. But don't underestimate the use of pillows, books, or other simple tools you can find online like lumbar support or foot mats.

  • Use your core. Activate your core throughout the day by simply tightening your abs to keep blood moving and muscles looser. Want to maximize use of your core while sitting? Some people swear by sitting on a ball chair while others find it to be too much and not supportive enough. It may be worth a try!

  • Sit with ice or heat. With a new back injury that feels inflamed try ice for 15 minutes at a time throughout the day. For soreness, tightness and spasms try heat for 15 minutes throughout the day. For a bonus, alternate.

Unfortunately, there is no single best chair out there for everyone. It comes down to preference, variations in your body's exact make up and realistically the budget. The best function of any office equipment is to have a lot of adjustment options so you can play with what feels good, especially since it may change from day to day. Don't resign yourself to days of lower back pain because you don't have a chair or equipment with all the bells and whistles.

If you want to maximize your work space for yourself, co-workers, or employees think about talking to a physical therapist that specializes in work place ergonomics that can evaluate your office and give you great tips.

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