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Sitting and Standing:

Not all back pain patients are alike. Some gain relief from standing, while others feel better sitting, Boden says.

It depends on the cause of the back pain, adds Boden. People with disk cartilage problems tend to have more problems when they’re sitting and actually tend to feel better when they’re standing. The increased pressure in the abdomen, which occurs by virtue of sitting, rather than standing, is why those people get more symptoms while they’re sitting.”

People with disk problems should avoid prolonged sitting, Boden says. When they do sit, using a good lumbar cushion or reclining the seat backward can help take stress off the spine, he says. For example, people who get back pain while driving may want to tilt the seat backward and use lumbar support, then adjust their mirrors for comfort and safety.

For those who have more back pain while standing, the culprit is often a different problem: arthritis in the tiny facet joints on the back of the spine, Boden says. People with this problem tend to lean or hunch forward when they walk, or they lean onto shopping carts. “They’re trying to take pressure off those facet joints,” Boden says. These patients usually feel better when they sit.

Although people can make accommodations for their specific back problem, there are also general rules for proper sitting, standing, and lifting to protect your back, according to NISMAT.

If you must stand for a prolonged period of time, try these tips:  

  • Wear comfortable shoes and stand on a soft surface.
  • Bring your work to a comfortable level; do not bend over it.
  • Rest one leg on a stool to reduce stress on your back.
  • Change your position often.

If you find yourself stuck in a chair for extended periods of time, try these tips:

  • Sit in a chair that supports your lower back. If the chair doesn’t offer enough support, use a lumbar cushion behind your lower back.
  • Position your chair so that your knees are at least as high as your hips when your feet are flat on the floor.
  • Your desktop should be slightly above your waist.
  • Sit close to your work; do not lean over it.
  • Do not slump over while sitting.
  • Take frequent breaks to stand up and stretch.

Push, don’t pull

NISMAT also recommends that whenever possible, people should push objects rather than pull. For example, if you need to move a piece of furniture, stand close to it, tighten your stomach muscles, and push with both arms. Don’t lean forward and never push or pull with a bent back.

Boden agrees that it’s better to push than pull. “When you’re pushing, you tend to use more of your stomach muscles than when you’re pulling,” he says. With the latter, “you tend to put more stress on your back.”

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