Back Pain from Sitting Too Long

March 6, 2024
OrthoNJ

You're in the right place if your back hurts from sitting too long.

Back pain from sitting too long is a common issue that can significantly impact daily life—it's a literal pain! Having a sore back from sitting too long can be frustrating but you can often make adjustments to improve your environment and alleviate pain. Sometimes, the back pain relates to underlying issues, and you should seek advice from an orthopaedic back specialist. Understanding causes and treatments and when you should seek care will help you evaluate your situation and the care you need.

A businesswoman is suffering from back pain from sitting too long in her office at home. She is behind a desk, standing up with her hands on her lower back.

Why Do You Get a Backache From Sitting Too Long?

Lower back pain from sitting too long can stem from various factors, all exacerbated by prolonged periods of sitting. Upper back pain from sitting too long can also occur due to several reasons related to prolonged sitting and poor posture. While similar in a way, the factors also differ.

Here are some common causes:

Causes of Lower Back Pain from Sitting Too Long:

Poor Posture

Incorrect sitting posture puts undue stress on the ligaments, muscles, and discs of the lower back, which, over time, can lead to discomfort and pain. Incorrect sitting posture is a significant contributor to back pain.

Alignment Issues

Sitting disrupts the body's natural alignment, leading to strain on the back and neck.

Muscle Weakness and Imbalance

Sitting for extended periods can weaken the muscles supporting the spine, particularly the core muscles. This imbalance can result in strain and instability in the lower back.

Reduced Blood Flow

Prolonged sitting restricts blood flow to the tissue and muscles of the lower back, depriving them of oxygen and essential nutrients; this can cause muscle fatigue and contribute to discomfort.

Spinal Compression

Extended periods of sitting can lead to the degeneration of spinal discs. Sitting down places the spine in a flexed position, which increases pressure on the spinal discs. Over time, this compression can lead to disc degeneration and nerve irritation, resulting in lower back pain.

Lack of Movement
  • Sitting restricts natural movement and spinal mobility, causing stiffness and tightness in the lower back muscles. Without regular breaks and movement, these muscles can become tense and painful.
Medical Factors

Conditions like sciatica, herniated discs, muscle strain, and spinal stenosis can also contribute to sitting-related back pain.

Causes of Upper Back Pain from Sitting Too Long:

Slouching

Sitting with rounded shoulders and a forward head posture can lead to discomfort and pain because it strains the muscles and ligaments in the upper back.

Hunching Over

Leaning forward excessively while sitting, such as when working on a computer or reading, can cause the upper back muscles to overstretch and become fatigued, resulting in pain.

Weak Upper Back Muscles

Prolonged sitting can weaken the upper back muscles responsible for maintaining proper posture, contributing to upper back pain.

Muscle Imbalances

Imbalances between the chest and upper back muscles, often caused by poor posture and sitting habits, can lead to muscle strain and discomfort in the upper back region.

Stress and Tension

Psychological stress and tension can manifest physically in tightness and stiffness in the upper back muscles, exacerbating pain and discomfort.

Limited Range of Motion

Prolonged sitting can restrict the natural movement and mobility of the spine, leading to stiffness and discomfort in the upper back muscles.

Addressing these factors through proper posture, ergonomic adjustments, regular breaks, stretching and strengthening exercises, and stress management techniques can help alleviate and prevent upper and lower back pain associated with prolonged sitting.

Determining if Your Back Hurts From Sitting Too Long

There are a lot of potential culprits when it comes to the cause of back pain, so what can you do to determine if your back pain is from sitting too long?

  • Lifestyle Assessment: Evaluate your level of physical activity and the amount of time spent sitting.
  • Posture Check: Be mindful of slouching or adopting unhealthy sitting positions.
  • Progression of Pain: Note whether the pain has developed gradually over time. Does it alleviate on days when you are not sitting for prolonged periods?
  • Ergonomics: Consider the ergonomic quality of your chair and workstation setup.
  • Medical Advice: If you cannot pinpoint the issues causing your back pain from prolonged sitting, consult an orthopaedic specialist.

You don't have to stay in pain. Contact one of our ONJ divisions to schedule an appointment.

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Options for Treating Back Pain From Sitting Too Long:

The good news is that various treatment options can help alleviate discomfort and address underlying issues for upper or lower back pain caused by sitting too long. Here are some common treatments:

Ergonomic Adjustments

Making ergonomic modifications to your workspace, such as using an ergonomic chair, adjusting desk height, and positioning computer monitors at eye level, can help reduce strain on the back and promote proper posture while sitting. See more below on evaluating and creating an ergonomic workspace.

Posture Correction

Practicing good posture habits, such as sitting with your back straight, shoulders relaxed, and your feet flat on the floor, can help alleviate stress on the spine and prevent further discomfort.

Two computer workers with arms stretched out in front and head tipped back stretching to alleviate back pain from sitting too long

Exercises

Doing regular stretching and strengthening exercises can help improve mobility, flexibility, and muscle strength in your back and core muscles. Focus your exercises on those that target the upper and lower back, such as cat-cow stretches, trunk rotations, and bridges.

Heat and Cold Therapy

To relax tense muscles and improve blood flow apply warm compresses or heat packs. You can can help reduce inflammation and numb pain by applying cold therapy with ice packs. 

Massage Therapy

Massage can be a great option to help improve circulation, relax tight muscles, and alleviate tension in the back. Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, and myofascial release may be beneficial for addressing back pain caused by sitting too long.

Lifestyle Modifications

Making lifestyle changes such as taking regular breaks from sitting, maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active, and staying hydrated can help prevent and manage back pain in the long term.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy focuses on improving flexibility, stretching and strengthening the spine's support muscles, and correcting posture. Therapists may use targeted exercises, manual techniques, and heat therapy or ultrasound to help reduce pain and improve mobility.

Medications

OTC pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help reduce inflammation and alleviate mild to moderate back pain. 

In situations where conservative treatments fail to provide relief or there is an underlying spinal condition, consultation with an orthopedic specialist may be necessary. Depending on the severity and nature of the condition, they can offer additional treatment options, including injections, minimally invasive procedures, or surgery.

Evaluating Your Workspace for Ergonomics to Alleviate Your Sore Back From Sitting Too Long

Ergonomic adjustments to a workspace can help alleviate lower back pain from sitting too long. Here's a detailed list of modifications and how to set them up effectively:

Adjust Chair Height:

  • Your chair should allow your feet to rest on a footrest or flat on the floor to be at the proper height.
  • Adjusting the chair height so that your knees are level with or slightly below your hips will help promote proper posture and reduce pressure on the lower back.
executive working on laptop in office

Optimizing Your Desk Height:

  • Have your desk or workstation set so that your forearms are parallel to the ground when typing or using a keyboard. This position is the ideal height for your desk.
  • Adjust your desk height so that your elbows bend at a 90-degree angle with your wrists in a neutral position. This will prevent strain on the upper back and shoulders.

Support Lumbar Curve:

  • Use a chair with built-in lumbar support, or place a rolled towel or lumbar cushion behind your lower back. This lumbar support will help maintain the natural curve of the spine.
  • Position the lumbar support to comfortably fit the curve of your lower back, providing adequate support and reducing strain.

Monitor Placement:

  • Place your computer monitor at eye level directly in front of you to promote a neutral neck position. This position reduces strain on the cervical spine.
  • Adjust the distance between the monitor and your eyes to approximately an arm's length away to minimize eye strain and encourage proper posture.

Use Proper Keyboard and Mouse:

  • Choose an ergonomic keyboard and mouse that allow for a natural hand and wrist position, reducing the risk of repetitive strain injuries.
  • Keep your keyboard and mouse close to the edge of the desk to minimize reaching and unnecessary strain on the upper back and shoulders.

Take Regular Breaks:

  • Incorporate frequent short breaks into your workday to stand up, stretch, and move around to alleviate pressure on the lower back and improve circulation.
  • Set reminders or use software applications to prompt you to take breaks at regular intervals throughout the day.

Organize Work Tools Efficiently:

  • Arrange frequently used tools and supplies within arm's reach to minimize excessive reaching and twisting movements that can strain the lower back.
  • Use ergonomic accessories such as document holders to position materials at eye level and reduce neck strain while reading or referencing documents.
bachache from sitting too long 1

Promote Active Sitting:

  • Consider using a stability ball or an active sitting chair to engage core muscles and encourage dynamic movement while sitting, reducing the risk of stiffness and promoting better posture.
  • Try to alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day using a height-adjustable desk or workstation to relieve pressure on the lower back and improve circulation.

By implementing these ergonomic adjustments and ensuring proper setup, you can create a workspace that supports proper posture, reduces strain on the lower back, and promotes overall comfort and productivity during extended periods of sitting.

You don't have to stay in pain. Contact one of our ONJ divisions to schedule an appointment.

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Prevention can be essential if you're struggling with a sore back from sitting too long. Focus on maintaining good posture, staying active, and taking regular breaks can help prevent your back pain. If you're not seeing relief, seek professional help. Please consult a back and spine specialist from one of our ONJ divisions for personalized care and treatment recommendations.

Don't let back pain from sitting hinder your quality of life. Take proactive steps, address the root causes, and explore effective treatment options tailored to your needs. For expert guidance and comprehensive care, trust the expertise of orthopedic professionals.


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