You’ve probably heard that sitting all day can be bad for your health. You might even have a standing desk or an app that tells you to stand up and stretch every 20 minutes. Maybe you use a balance ball instead of an office chair, hoping that it will help you stay healthy.
What you may not know is that sitting itself isn’t the culprit. It’s the way you sit that causes the problems.
Many people work at computers all day. They get focused on the screen and forget to pay attention to how they’re sitting. People tend to lean forward, hunch their shoulders and extend their necks. This creates pressure and strain on the spine and other parts of the body. Poor sitting posture has been found to be the cause of headaches, as well as neck, back, hip, leg, and even foot pain.
When you slouch, you put pressure on your internal organs which can lead to intestinal problems and stomach issues like heartburn and reflux. It can affect your digestion and metabolism. You restrict your blood vessels, and your nerves, creating circulation issues and pain. Slumping can cause your spine to become misaligned, cause a herniated disc, or irritate your sciatic nerve causing sciatica.
What is Sciatica?
The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body and is made up of nerve roots that start in the lower back and run through the buttock and down the back of each leg. You feel sciatic pain when that nerve is irritated or compressed. The location of the “pinched” nerve determines the symptoms.
Sciatica can be a searing pain that radiates from the buttocks down one leg; it can be leg pain with tingling, burning or numbness or it can be a sharp pain that takes your breath away and keeps you from moving. Some people have pain shooting down their leg into their feet and toes and for others, the pain feels like a bad cramp that doesn’t go away.
Sciatica is a symptom of a larger problem. It may be caused by a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease or even arthritis. The pain can come on suddenly or gradually and can be triggered by something as simple as sitting down, standing up, sneezing or coughing. It can come and go, or it can be chronic.
What Does Sitting Have to Do with Sciatica?
Since the sciatic nerve being pinched or irritated is the cause of sciatica pain, poor posture can contribute to that irritation. Even if you treat the underlying reason for sciatica, if you sit wrong and put pressure on the nerve, you can trigger a bout of sciatica. If you learn to sit with good posture, you might be able to relieve some of that pressure and experience less pain and fewer flare-ups.
If you sit with your legs crossed or tucked up under your chair, you’re reducing your circulation and placing undue stress on your lower back. Sitting with correct posture reduces the strain on your spine and keeps the nerves from getting compressed.
What Is “Good Sitting Posture?”
Good sitting posture does not mean you have to sit ramrod straight. When you sit, your abdominal muscles and your back muscles work together to keep you upright. When you lean forward or slouch, those muscles can’t do their job and may become strained. If your muscles can’t keep your spine aligned, it can cause irritation to the sciatic nerve.
You want to sit with your back and bottom snugly back against the back of your chair. You can use a lumbar pillow or rolled up towel behind your lower back to provide support. Your knees should be at a 90% angle with your feet flat on the floor. For some people, using a footrest to elevate their feet, slightly, reduces the strain on their lower back.
At your desk, make sure your keyboard is directly in front of you and you don’t have to stretch to reach it. The top of your computer screen should be at eye level and close enough that you can read it without having to lean forward. Your arms should be by your sides and not up, reaching forward.
Putting it All Together
Sitting itself is not always the problem. The way you sit can cause the following problems, and more:
- Restricted blood flow
- Digestion problems
- Slow metabolism
- Pinched or irritated nerves
- Muscle pain
- Misalignment of the spine
But there are several ways to combat those problems:
- Use good posture when you sit
- Set up your workspace so you don’t have to reach or lean forward
- Take a break every 20 minutes to move
For sciatica specifically, you can:
- Make sure you sit upright using your abdominal muscles and back muscles correctly
- Keep your legs at a 90% angle and slightly elevated to relieve pressure on your sciatic nerve
- Use a rolled-up towel in your lumbar area to provide extra support
- If you start to feel tightness or pain in your lower back, stand up and stretch to relieve the compression of the nerves
Now you know why sitting wrong can make your sciatica pain worse and how it can negatively affect your circulation and spinal alignment. You also learned ways to reduce the discomfort of current flare-ups and reduce the risk of future flare-ups. Since sciatica is a symptom of a larger problem, you should speak with your doctor to determine the main cause of your sciatic pain. Once you know what’s causing it, you can take steps to reduce the pain and hopefully, reduce its impact on your daily life.
Besides seeing your doctor and remembering to sit properly using good posture, setting an alarm for every twenty minutes is a good habit to get into. When the alarm goes off, don’t forget to get up and move! Walking and doing gentle stretches throughout the day are great ways to keep your spine flexible and healthy, which reduces your chances of irritating your sciatic nerve.