Tips On Sitting And Back Pain

As an Introvert, I like stillness. Quiet. It’s energizing to me.

Now, if you’re an Extrovert, stillness is about the last thing you want but there’s something good about stillness for everyone. Stillness of the mind, the body. Focusing on your breathing, disconnecting from the digital life of continuous partial attention.

But with too much stillness, you’ll die. Nearly every aspect of the human body depends upon some degree of mechanical force and movement. Lungs, heart, muscles, tendons, bones, brains, internal organs. Go to bed and stay in bed without moving for long enough and you’ll die.

One of the hazards of the digital lifestyle is sitting too much. Standing is better…somewhat.

It’s hard to write standing up though. It’s better for your spine – sort of – more on that in minute – but for me, tough to do.

Thomas Wolfe – a great novelist – reportedly wrote standing up in his kitchen and used the top of his refrigerator for a writing surface.

Winston Churchill made the standing desk popular as did Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

The problem with prolonged sitting is that your spine, and entire body really, was designed to move a lot and sit or stand a little. But our society has transformed that into sit a lot and move a little.

For your spine, sitting generates internal pressures that can gradually exceed its capacity much like pumping air into a faulty tire. Eventually, something gives.

I write. I write for this blog, books, courses, lectures, and I do some “creative” writing, more like sketching really, on my iPad. And since I have a history of spine problems,  I am acutely aware of what sitting too much means for me. So here’s what I do to mitigate the potential downside of sitting:

  • I write in a Zero Gravity chair. I can change the angles, kick it back, rest my eyes, lower the forces. It’s awesome. Maybe one of the best pieces of “furniture” I’ve ever purchased.
  • I write while sitting on different surfaces. I have another desk with a physioball for a chair. I don’t spend too much time at this desk in one sitting because the physioball actually makes your spine muscles work. But it’s good for thirty minutes or so. But I can also rock around a little on the ball. The body loves movement.
  • I write in different places. I have a more typical desk chair/desk set up and another area thcello_sittingat includes a recliner.
  • I almost always use my ZAFU as a support. This is the best lower back / upper back support I have ever used although it is intended to sit on and meditate. Inside the fabric shell is an inflatable beach ball. I inflate it as much as I need, which isn’t much air at all.
  • When I sit on a wooden chair or other hard surface I use the cello pose. I call it the “cello pose” because it reminds me of a cellist’s position –  minus the cello of course. You sit on the edge of the chair, legs apart with one foot slightly ahead of the other. This is really helpful at creating a balanced feeling and distribution of force and it keeps me from slouching.
  • I keep my writing sessions to about an hour and then I get up and do something else. Take a walk, move around, etc.
  • Physical conditioning is a must. I’ve been training now for several years and have noticed a gradual improvement in spinal stiffness, soreness, achiness, and overall strength and endurance. My philosophy is you have to train above the level at which you play (and play means anything from a sport to everyday life stuff). When you do this, your body becomes more resilient.

Why all of the different things? I like to give my body different options and the ability to react to the challenge but I also realize that too much in any one position could lead to overload and a less than happy spine.

If you have to sit a lot during the day, try varying your surfaces, angles, positions, and durations. And move. I think you’ll feel better.


Enjoy this article?

Ready to get real fit forever?

Enter your information and get health & fitness tips for grownups!







About Doug Kelsey

DK-postimage Doug Kelsey is a physical therapist and ActiveAge® “guru”. Doug is formerly an Associate Professor and Assistant Dean for Clinical Affairs at the University of Oklahoma Health Science and is the founder of Sports Center Physical Therapy in Austin, Tx. He writes on how to “actively age” – how to get healthy and fit over your lifetime and take charge of your health. He and his brother Joshua created the ActiveAge Blueprint.

You might also like: