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back pain when sitting | Back hurts from sitting

3 Reasons Your Back Hurts From Just Sitting

Written by Dr Elise Fuller

hip flexor | psoas muscle

Can just sitting really hurt your back?

Well, yes. It seems so unlikely! And yet we see again and again, desk workers present with back pain. They tell us, “ but I haven’t done anything! Literally!”  And I don’t doubt you! But yes, your back can hurt from just sitting.

You see, even doing nothing and just sitting can be a problem. Think of it as an “overuse” injury. The overuse here comes in the form of “over” sitting.

What happens technically when your back hurts from just sitting?

For starters, our hip flexors contract. They’re supposed to. Their job is to bend your legs up at the hip. But when they’re held in that position for a long time, like continuous sitting, then they learn a shorter space to move in.  So when you stand up to walk around, you get that really stiff feeling like you can’t straighten properly. That’s your hip flexors…. 

So why doesn’t your hip hurt then?

Well part of the hip flexor group of muscles actually attaches to the spine, around the belly button level. So you can imagine when they’re tight and contracting, they will pull the spine forward in a bent position. This puts pressure on your discs, on the lower back, on the muscles in the back too and sometimes the nerves.

The second issue is that the calf muscle shortens in a contracted position. (think about what your feet are doing now. Just hanging there, toes just skimming the ground? That means your calf is contracting). Without getting super complicated here, this means the ankle joint gets stiff and doesn’t bend well. Which is a problem during walking, as what we expect when the ankle bends and the calf stretches the spine actually extends back in relative terms as we move forward (in a good way). That’s some fun fancy body mechanics for you! So if this doesn’t happen well, then our poor spine is just stuck being pulled in the forward bending position, once again putting pressure on the low back as I said above.

Then the third reason is the knock on affect of the upper body rounding forward. With the spine being pulled forward plus our upper body rounding because of computer posture (you know what I’m talking about…) we just have this continuous downward pressure on the low back.

“But my job requires me to sit all day Elise!” I hear you. Don’t stress. We can’t help that, we all need to work.

What can you do about it?

Here are the stretches I prescribe regularly to combat sitting, (and do regularly myself, because even my job has its “overuse” positions) (or maybe just some links to our website stretches???)

  1. Calf stretch
  2. Hip flexor stretch
  3. Seated cogs (click here)

Plus general moving! The more we move around, the better we feel 😊

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