Posture, Back Pain & How You Sit
The Dangers of Being Sedentary
As we’ve talked about on this blog in the past, sitting for long periods can wreak havoc on the spine. And since a whopping 86 percent of employed Americans work desk jobs , and since, on average, we spend 10-13 hours a day on our butts, this is a pretty serious problem. Alongside other health issues, a range of back pain problems can result, including bulging disc, cervical disc disease, and pinched nerve, among many others.
Conventionally the thinking was that we’d do better if we sat less, and there’s certainly some truth to that. However, as NPR reporter and chronic back pain sufferer, Michaeleen Doucleff learned, the real issue might not be how much we sit but rather how we do so.  Basically, your grandmother or mother was right; it pays to pay attention to posture.
So what’s happening here, and what sort of posture should you be aiming for? A brief walk through our prehistory will show us.
One way to understand back pain is to look at the issue through the lens of evolution and early human existence. It’s accepted in science that the first humans lived in nomadic, hunter-gatherer societies: bands of multiple families that didn’t stick to one place but kept moving to find the food and water they needed. Since our backs evolved into such a lifestyle, the thinking has been that our being sedentary—a much more recent phenomenon—is unhealthy and puts a lot of strain on the back.
However, as Doucleff learned speaking to University of Arizona anthropologist, Dr. David Raichlen, hunter-gatherers were actually just about as sedentary as we are today. Looking at a modern band of hunter-gatherers, the Hadza from Tanzania, he found that while they do spend more time a day exercising (about 75 minutes a day), they spent roughly the same amount of time seated as Americans, about 10 hours a day.  Notably, they have a much, much lower incidence of back pain or spine issues than we do implying that the amount of time sitting itself is not the issue.
If you look around anywhere there are people seated, you’ll easily find the posture issue that’s causing so many problems. Basically, people have developed a propensity to hunch forward, leaving their backs in a damaging C-shape. As Doucleff put it, “[t]heir shoulders curve over and their butts curve under.”  This places unbalanced pressure on the intervertebral discs, the cartilage that separates vertebrae. Over long periods of time, this can damage them, leading to numerous pain and inflammation problems.
It’s important to note that among the Hadza, as among many other cultures, this c-shape is virtually impossible to find. It’s a western, more contemporary phenomenon. And as highlighted by Doucleff, there’s a growing amount of alternative health practitioners who teach these older, less-damaging styles of posture and movement. 
From the Ground Up
The solution is to straighten up and get a more natural spinal curve going, but this isn’t as easy it seems. Instead of focusing just on the upper body and tensing up to straighten your back—something which, let’s be honest, never works—the idea is to pull out your pelvis, acting, in a sense, as if it had a tail.  This might mean trying to push your rear to the back of your seat and working from there. You’ll adjust the curvature of your back because the c-shape would cause you to lean uncomfortably forward. Ultimately this approach allows you to adopt a healthy, natural s-curve; pretend like you have to stick a “tail” out, and you’ll be able to sit pain-free for hours.
Free to Be Pain Free
Adjusting posture can surely help with endemic back issues, but making changes are likely only to be part of a solution. No one should have to endure high levels of discomfort or feel limited by aches and pain due to spine problems. Luckily, the range of treatment options for these issues today is larger than it’s ever been before. With the right help—and yes, a little more attention to posture—back problems can be something you leave behind. Keep your “tail” out and free and seek out help if you need it.
The experts at North American Spine specialize in a range of minimally-invasive treatment options for a wide variety of back pain issues. They’ve helped countless patients find relief while employing the latest ion techniques and technologies. Learn more about what they do by calling 469-638-0208 today!
- Olson, Lindsay. 2013. “Sitting Disease: The Slow, Silent And Sedentary Killer Of The American Workforce”. US News & World Report. http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2013/08/22/are-you-suffering-from-sitting-disease.
- Doucleff, Michaeleen. “To Fix That Pain In Your Back, You Might Have To Change The Way You Sit”. 2018. Org. Accessed December 21 2018. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/08/13/636025077/to-fix-that-pain-in-your-back-you-might-have-to-change-the-way-you-sit.