As you have already most likely experienced for yourself, slouching, or sitting with your spine rounded forwards, causes irritation and discomfort. In some cases, prolonged slouching may lead to more serious injury in your neck or low back.
The pain or discomfort arises for two main reasons. Slouched sitting holds your muscles in an abnormally lengthened position. Doing this day by day, for hours on end stretches these structures abnormally and ultimately weakens them. Imagine holding your hamstring in a stretched position for 20 minutes non-stop – it would be unbearable. Don’t be confused, stretching certainly has it benefits, but prolonged stretching can be equally detrimental to the same structure.
Over time, prolonged stretching leads to disc degeneration, the discs being the little cushions between your vertebrae (back bones). Slouched sitting pushes the discs outward towards the surface of your back. In due course, the discs bulge, also called herniated or slipped. Holding your neck tilted forward of your shoulders, and/or with the chin jutting forward, also mechanically harms the discs in your neck spine.
A disc may bulge outward enough to press on nearby nerves, and depending on its whereabouts, may send pain down either your arms or legs. Even without disc involvement, soft tissue pain alone from slouching can be uncomfortable but they are all easy to prevent.
How to fix
Like the ground floor of a skyscraper, your low back should also have a solid foundation. Adopting a good posture in the lumbar spine, will see the rest of your spine sitting in a safe and pain free position. Remember however, that prolonged sitting in any posture will ultimately be uncomfortable. Our bodies were made to move regularly, not sit five days per week.
Most chairs these days have lumbar support built into the back of the chair yet the support offered is usually inadequate. Using a lumbar roll is an effective way of ensuring you sit correctly in a chair. Using the lumbar roll effectively requires you to sit deeply into the back of the chair thus maintaining your lumbar lordosis as it rests up against the roll.
Lumbar rolls are available in different sizes and firmness. Ensure you have been recommended or tried a lumbar roll that fits you correctly and for the right setting (office or car). A lumbar roll that is too large may feel like it is sticking you in the back, or extending too high or low on your back. If it is not comfortable, it is not right nor helpful, change it!
To use the lumbar roll correctly, lean your upper back against the chair rather than pushing your lower back against the roll. Avoid forcing your spine into overly straight or arched postures. Keep your head upright without tilting it forward or back, and ensure you are not poking your chin out.
Sitting for occasions
Here are some tips for sitting in different circumstances. In each case, you should always use a lumbar roll for the reasons described above.
- Sit with your hips all the way to the back of the seat.
- Move the seat closer to the steering wheel so that you don’t have to reach forward for the wheel, rounding your spine in the process.
- Tilt the upright part of the seat just slightly backward so that you lean your upper back back against the seat instead of pressing the lower back and reaching and rounding.
Sitting at your desk
- Sit with your hips all the way against the back of the chair.
- Move the seat closer to the desk so you can sit up instead of slouching forward.
- Raise the monitor using a phonebook or block of some sort.
- Use an external keyboard for laptops (split keyboards are even better).
Sitting on flights
- Commercial airline seats are concave, encouraging prolonged rounding through your spine.
- Two pillows may be necessary, one to fit the curve of your lower back, and possibly one above for your upper back to fill the space left by the overly-rounded seat. Adjust the pillows as needed to make it feel comfortable and supported.
- Sit upright and lean back to rest the back of your head against the head rest.
- Depending on the shape of the chair, you will need to move the lumbar roll higher or lower. What is important is to understand why you are using it – to support your spine and to pad it accordingly
Sitting to relax
It’s probably a little socially inept to take your lumbar support with you to a bar or your girlfriend’s cocktail party. Whether it be a seat at a dinner table, lounge chair or couch, always search for a cushion to pad up against your lower back. Sit deeply in the chair and if you find yourself starting to slouch, look for an excuse to get up and move around.
Anybody who sits for a living should use a lumbar roll. If you’re in an office job and you don’t have back pain – get one from your health practitioner anyway. When it comes to lumbar rolls, it’s the same as eating vegetables, they’re good for you!
*DISCLAIMER: This discussion does not provide medical advice. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained in this discussion are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this discussion is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog.