Do you have pain in your back when sitting? Well for many people, this is a very common occurrence! Many patients are often quite surprised that their back pain gets worse when sitting and not better. Whilst some lower back conditions will find sitting helps relieve their pain, a good majority will get more pain the longer they sit, especially if sitting with a poor posture. In today’s blog, we will look at what happens in your lower back when sitting and what chairs and supports are recommended.

What happens to our discs?

In one of previous blogs on Lumbar Disc Injuries, we talked about the structure of our spines and discs, what a disc bulge is and how different postures can cause pain. Of the many different postures we maintain throughout the day, the internal pressures are greatest in the lumbar discs when sitting, and more importantly, the intra-discal pressures are even higher with slumped sitting. This occurs when our spine loses its typical elongated ‘S’ bend and assumes a ‘C’ bend – the intra-discal pressure increases by over 50%!

How posture affects disc pressure

Image credit: Stadium Sports Physiotherapy

Disc pressure %

Image credit: Physiotherapy Dublin

The natural curvature in our lumbar spine is called our “lordosis”. This can become rounded when slumping or sitting in an unsupportive chair, and is what we need to avoid!

The backs of the discs are generally very flexible as they allow for everyday movements like putting on shoes or picking up a dropped pen on the floor. However, like any ligament subjected to continual strain, e.g. sitting all day at work, or driving long hours in a truck, the disc will suffer cumulative tearing of its fibres, albeit on a microscopic scale. It’s like forcibly bending a finger back and keeping it back. It’s this repeated breakage of the fibres of the posterior disc wall that causes problems to begin in the first place and pain to arise.

For those already with disc issues, you can start to see why your disc bulge doesn’t like sitting and why slumping or poor posture will only make things worse!

What can be done?

The picture below clearly shows how to maintain your lordosis when sitting. By maintaining your lordosis you are reducing the disc pressure in your back, and reducing your pain. This doesn’t mean sitting up straight like a soldier however! That is an overcorrection and will cause different issues, primarily with overactive lumbar muscles!

Correct and incorrect sitting posture

Image credit: Cush relief

Maintaining your lordosis can be difficult depending on the chair you sit on. A chair that is soft or lacks a backing will make it difficult as your back will simply just sink into it. Similarly, a “bucket style” sports seat in a car, although looks great, will also round your lumbar spine and cause issues.

For those with a history of back pain or existing back pain, the best type of chair to look for it one with a firm backing and an in-built lumbar support. A lumbar support is simply anything that helps maintain that curvature of your lower back, most commonly padding embedded in the chair in your lumbar region.

What are lumbar rolls?

However, most chair lumbar support is inadequate. So an additional support is placed behind your lower back to assist with maintaining good posture. Pictured below is an example of how a lumbar roll is used to maintain good sitting posture. Not only will it help reduce your pain but it can also help prevent further injury!

The McKenzie Lumbar Roll is a great quality lumbar roll and its density helps maintain the curve in your lower back as required. They can be used in your office, car, truck – you can even take them to the theatre!

McKenzie Lumbar Roll

Another great device is the OBUS Forme. It is a full chair support that not only supports your lumbar spine but supports your whole back. They are super comfy and feel like your back is receiving a nice hug! These can used at home or work for increased lumbar support.

OBUS Forme

What to do now?

Before spending money on any devices, we recommend speaking to your physiotherapist first to discuss whether the product is going to be beneficial for your condition or is simply a costly gimmick. Your physiotherapist can also discuss and explain your sitting postural issues, prescribe you exercises to help strengthen your back and to assist correct sitting posture.

Both McKenzie Lumbar Rolls and Obus Forme lumbar supports can be purchased at Revive Physiotherapy and Pilates for competitive prices!