To Sit or to Stand, that is the question?

When it comes to low back pain, we are told that sitting for too long is not good for our backs. Why is that the case? What does sitting do to our low back?

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There are low back pain studies that have been conducted that measure the pressures in the spinal discs with various activities. One study in particular 1, involved a 45 year old male who had a pressure device inserted into his L4/L5 disc. This allowed researchers to measure the amount of pressure change in a variety of different activities. Running, sitting in various postures, lifting with both good and bad mechanics and even stair climbing were measured. What we observed from this study is that there are different pressures that the disc undergoes with differing positions. You may be asking, how is this relevant to me?


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What is critical to remember with patient’s is that if we treat a large group of people who have low back pain with the same interventions, we are going to help some people and we will not help others. This is where subgrouping comes into play. Subgrouping is when we take a history from the patient about their issue. From experience and research we have found certain subgroups of patients have certain characteristics and presentations. It makes logical sense that if we can subgroup patient’s with low back pain, that we can offer them more specific interventions that will better address their impairments. This is much more effective than just giving everyone the same interventions and only some people get better. More on the subgrouping in next weeks article!

Matching  interventions to patient’s with specific presentations allow for better outcomes.

Matching interventions to patient’s with specific presentations allow for better outcomes.

Low back pain treatment can revolve around the reduction of your pain. When you go see a practitioner it is often because you are in pain, which is an unpleasant experience. When we are given medication, offered injections, or prescribed a specific treatment, one of the goals is to help reduce your pain. Physical therapists often take a similar approach to low back pain. There are often movements/positions that make your pain better and some that make your pain worse. There is a phenomenon called peripherilization and centralization. Some patient’s have low back pain that is associated with radiating pain that goes down the leg (sciatica). One of our goals with this type of patient is to help centralize their pain. If we can take the pain out of the leg and move it toward the center of the back we can predict that the patient has a good prognosis (they will get better with our interventions).

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When it comes to treating low back pain there are studies that will show sitting is bad for your back and just as many studies that show sitting and standing create similar stresses on the back. You may now be asking, “What is the best position?” I will tell you that in my opinion it is somewhere in-between. I advise my patient’s to not go longer than 1 hour without getting up out of your chair or if you start in standing, sitting down. This variability will help to off load some of the structures that could be affecting your back. Set the alarm on your phone so that you have to get up and move around.

It may get awkward if you are doing a head stand in the office, but tell your co-workers to join in!

It may get awkward if you are doing a head stand in the office, but tell your co-workers to join in!

You may already know intuitively that one position is better for your back because the other causes pain. Another concept that needs to be addressed is the concept that not all hurt = harm. As I am writing this, I am coming up with more ideas for blog posts! More on the hurt = harm later!


The moral of the story when it comes to low back pain and in that matter, reducing the risk of developing low back pain is that you need to move your body. Motion = lotion is what I tell my patients.


If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend. If you need more specific advice, call or text me at 501-529-2010, or you can shoot me an e-mail at Brian@pinnacledpt.com. My name is Dr. Brian Murphy, I am a physical therapist and owner of Pinnacle Physical Therapy located in Little Rock, AR.

Thanks and here’s to helping you reach your PINNACLE!

5507 Ranch Dr, Suite 203

Little Rock, AR 72223

Brian@pinnacledpt.com

Reference

  1. Wilke, Hans–Joachim, et al. "New in vivo measurements of pressures in the intervertebral disc in daily life." Spine 24.8 (1999): 755-762.