Low back pain is a leading cause of disability worldwide. Symptoms can vary from dull and achy to sharp and burning, and may or may not be associated with pain into the legs. Low back pain can be acute (<3 months), episodic (recurrent episodes over time) or chronic (lasting >3 months).
There are many factors that can contribute to the onset of low back pain, but one of the most common is prolonged sitting and/or poor sitting posture. Sitting increases the pressure on your back muscles and spinal discs, and sitting in a slouched position can overstretch your spinal ligaments as well as put further strain on the discs.
Now that most people are working from home it is especially important for you to create an ergonomically friendly “work from home” area. In order to promote good sitting posture, you should sit at a table or desk with the following set up:
- Computer monitor slightly below eye level and approximately 20 inches away from eyes (use stack of books to bring your laptop up to proper eye level if necessary).
- Elbows should be bent 90-120 degrees.
- Knees should be in line with your hips and the desk/table 2-3 inches above your thighs. If you do not have an adjustable chair and your chair is too high: put a small stool or stack of books under your feet to keep knees in line with hips. If you chair is too low: place a pillow/cushion on your seat to raise yourself up.
- You can also use a small pillow or towel roll in the small of your back to help support your spine while sitting.
Finally, no matter how comfortable you are able to make your work from home area, prolonged, static posture is detrimental to your low back health. Remember to stand, stretch, and walk around for 1-2 minutes at least once per hour (set a timer if you need!).
Try the following exercises at home to address/prevent low back pain associated with prolonged sitting:
Standing Lumbar Extension
Start by standing and placing your hands on your hips with your thumbs grasping your low back. Lean back to arch your back as far as is comfortable, then return to starting position. Use your thumbs to help isolate where you want to bend. Repeat 20 times.
Standing Hip Flexor Stretch
Start with your feet staggered, the foot of the leg to be stretched is the back leg. Place your hands on your pelvis and keep your spine long and straight (neutral position). Shift your pelvis forward without letting your back arch and keeping your back leg straight. You should feel a stretch along the front of your hip and thigh. Hold 30 seconds, repeat 3 times on each leg.
Seated Piriformis Stretch
While sitting in a chair, cross one leg on top of the other as shown. Next, gently lean forward until a stretch is felt along the crossed leg. Hold 30 seconds, repeat 3 times on each leg.
While lying on your back with knees bent, tighten your lower abdominals, squeeze your buttocks and then raise your buttocks off the floor/bed as creating a “bridge” with your body. Hold for 1-2 seconds and then lower yourself to the starting position. Complete 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions.
If your low back pain is not alleviated with positional changes or is accompanied by tingling/burning/weakness in legs, bowel/bladder changes, or severe night pain, please reach out to your doctor, as this may be a sign of a more serious condition.
Remember we are here for you at Physical Solutions! If you have any questions about your low back symptoms or related exercises, please reach out to one of our physical therapists.