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This ONE HABIT Is Wrecking Your Lower Back.

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Let’s cut to the chase. The habit that is wrecking your back is deep couch sitting.  If you’d like to know what and why that is- we can offer some tips and alternatives to alleviate pain, soreness, and long-term injury. We want you to continue to watch TV comfortably, surf the Internet, play video games, and not feel as stiff after you stand up or have pain afterward. Let’s look at why your hips and low back get stiff after sitting on a couch or sitting in a chair that feels soft, plush, and comfortable. How can we define what I mean by deep couch sitting? Deep couch sitting, to me, is when you sit on something that’s so plush or comfortable that you get sucked into the void of those cushions or the chair or wherever it is that you’re seated.

Why is this a problem?

It’s a problem because it diminishes the structure of your pelvis and spine. So when you’re sitting on something soft that offers very little or no support, what begins to happen is your pelvis drifts into a posterior- or backward- tilt which can mess with the alignment of your pelvis. Add gravity- the weight of the body pushing downward and outward- there is a lot of force put into the spine and pelvis.

Where the pelvis moves, the spine follows. Or not.

When the pelvis starts to roll back, the spine follows that motion. If you look closely at a model of the spine, you will see that the disks open up on the back. The spaces where the disks come together in the front of the spine receive extra pressure in that position.  

“What if I put pillows behind my low back?” That should solve the back pain, right?  

You’d think so, but the issue begins lower than that. We’re talking about the foundation, and the foundation of your body is your pelvis, not your low back. You can’t build a solid house on a shoddy foundation. The same is true of your spine. You can try stuffing pillows under your low back all day, but it’s likely not solving the problem- that your pelvis is tilted backward- and this position doesn’t allow proper support of the spine. The same is also true if you sit off-kilter or crooked, by which we mean sitting with weight on one butt cheek or with one side of your pelvis shifted behind the other side as if your body is rotated and not resting on an even “base.”

Do you always cross over the same leg? These repetitive mis-alignments will eventually cause problems for you. Still, it’s even more magnified when you sit in something softly plush or that doesn’t allow you to maintain good posture.  

You can do several things right away to avoid wrecking your back and start feeling better.

Consider lying on your side- particularly if you’re going to be watching TV or something like that and it’s in front of you for any length of time. Resting on your side allows the spine to be in a much more relaxed, appropriately aligned position, diminishing the opposing forces on the vertebrae and the bones of your back. Add support for your head and pelvis with pillows under the head and between the knees. Another option is getting a large and firm triangular wedge cushion. You can put it behind you on the floor, underneath you seated on the floor, or even on a desk chair- they’re very versatile.

A fun option is sitting on a large therapy ball or more of an active use chair.  One of the advantages of these tools is you can still sit and watch your program or work on the laptop. You’ll be getting stronger because you have to sit up against gravity, and the ball is a little unstable, forcing the strengthening of some of your postural, balance, and core muscles.  It IS important to be confident that you can sit unsupported safely before trying this.  

Take stretch breaks every 20 to 30 minutes.  If you’re watching a movie or sitting for a more extended period, add any variety of movements. Take even just a couple of stretches or quick exercises to “wake up.” Moving your muscles will help get the blood flowing, keep the all-important lymph system flowing, and add synovial fluid into and around the joints. Fluid helps nourish the joints alleviating inflammation and stagnation. 

Look UP & look OUT. Bring your laptop up to you- don’t drop your head down to it.   If you use your laptop or a tablet while on the couch, there are a combination of different things that can help. Try a wedge cushion with pillows behind your head to help keep your neck and head up. There are great tray products available now that elevates the screen so that you aren’t hunched and looking down. When you tilt your head down to the device, it puts much more stress on the neck and back. Because you’re constantly in a position of your head being in front of your spine, it will have ripple effects down and up the chain.

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Humans are meant to be creatures of movement.

The best posture is the next posture. You don’t have to stress about whether you are consistently crossing one leg or never crossing your legs. Just try to move things on both sides of your body- in various ways- the vital thing is to maneuver and put yourself in diverse postures throughout the day. This way, you’re not creating strain on one side or part of your body. Does this mean you should throw out your La-Z-Boy chair or your couch? Not at all. We simply need to strive for more variety of movement and make sure that we’re nourishing our muscles, bones, and joints. If you are relaxing in the recliner, consider taking some time where you are fully reclined. Try that versus just slightly reclining because you’re more likely to be put into that backward tilt of the pelvis.

If you’re still suffering from low back pain or hip pain after trying the different tips, you will want to find a physical therapist near you to avoid wrecking your back.

A Physical therapist will help you look at imbalances and work with you from there. Perhaps you have muscles that are too tight or weak, or you’ve changed some movement patterns without realizing it; this can make you more predisposed to pain or stiffness. Don’t continue to suffer and wreck your back. Our expert physical therapists will work with you where you’re at, accommodating your individual and unique lifestyle and needs to get you back to the activities you love- without the pain. 

Did these tips help bring you even 10% relief? If so, you would greatly benefit from a FREE, 1-on-1 assessment of your individual body so you can avoid wrecking your lower back.

At Healthy Consumer Physical Therapy, our therapists near you encourage patients to listen to their bodies. Pain is designed to alert you when something is wrong before it becomes a chronic problem, and we advocate seeking help early on. We can discuss concerns, set goals, develop an individual, comprehensive plan, and work on executing for long-term improvement. In addition, patients are given instruction on ways to incorporate additional exercises and stretches at home to improve strength, stability, and range of motion.

Chris S

Dr. Chris Sovey

Healthy Consumer PT

"We Help Adults 40+ Living With Pain, Stiffness, Or Loose Joints Get Healthy, Age Stronger, And Get Back To The Activities They Love, Even If Past Treatments Have Failed"


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