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  • Writer's pictureIan Thornley

Why does my back hurt when I sit?

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

This is a really common problem that I see and treat at Ian Thornley Osteopathy for the local community of Shoreham, Otford and Kemsing and it has been on the rise during the current Covid-19 pandemic.

What is concerning is the availability of good quality care and treatment for people suffering with sore, stiff and achy lower backs, especially during this difficult and strange period of our lives.

For most of my clients with this exact problem - it started with a few twinges, from time to time which they thought would just disappear.

But the don't - they get worse and they leave my poor clients struggling to find a position of comfort, anxious about what is causing the low back pain and worried about what the future holds for them if they are stuck with it.

Sometimes clients may even come to us using phrases suck as 'my joints are wearing away', 'my discs have worn away' or 'my spine is worn out'.

Usually nothing could be further from the truth!

We also find that people have often been told by friends, family or even doctors that it is just the way it is 'at their age' and to just accept it and put up with it.

Unfortunately this leads to people NOT looking for a solution for their problem, which sometimes can be easily fixed!

Here are 5 of the most common reasons people develop back pain when they have been sitting for any length of time.

Do any of these ring true to you? Read on after the common reasons to find some of the advice I give my clients to help themselves with this nagging, frustrating problem.

Sitting for too much of the day

Be honest - how much of the day do you sit down for? Work, meals, your commute, that Netflix binge in the evening?

The truth is we are all sitting much more now than we used to. The advances in the technology make our lives much easier - but at the expense of physical activity.

Where we once might have written a letter and walked to the post box to send it, we now send an email from our sofa, and it's not that long ago really that we would have to get up to answer the phone that was attached to the wall by a cable, or even to walk across the living room to change the TV channel!

Sitting for long periods of time can change the length of certain muscles in our backs and legs. Some will shorten and become stiff, others will lengthen and become weak.

This affects the way these muscles pull on your back, which can sometimes lead to pain and stiffness.

Think about your day. Do you sit for more than an hour at a time? If you can change this you may well feel a huge benefit.

Weakness in other muscles

The muscles in our body want to be lazy! They use a great deal of energy, so if there is an easy way out they will take it!

If your core, that is the muscles around your midriff and stomach, become weak the muscles of your back then need to work harder - much more than they are supposed to do - to keep you stable and supported.

So, then, when you sit your back muscles are exhausted and it complains by giving you the feeling of tightness and soreness. It is your backs way of telling you that something needs to change!

Is your chair too soft or too low?

Have you ever sat on one of those sofas or chairs where you really sink down as you slump into it? It feels great at first doesn't it!

But if you spend a bit of time in it, watch a couple of episodes of your favourite TV show maybe, your back starts to feel the effects of being 'flexed forward' for an extended period of time and becomes uncomfortable and painful.

The same is true if your chair or sofa is too low. You again tend to sit with a lot of flexion through the lower part of the back. Not great if you want to keep your back out of pain.

Trying to sit up straight ALL the time!

We were all told to sit up straight when we were kids and while there is some validity to that attempting to sit up with 'military type' posture all the time can lead to pain in the back.

It used to be thought that sitting bolt upright all the time was the best way to avoid wear and tear in your back. We now know this isn't the case and forcing yourself into a very upright sitting position all the time can also cause problems.

In this posture the muscles of the back are forced to work really hard for an extended period of time, leaving them feeling exhausted, sore and achy.

Slouching too much!

Slouching forward all the time can also cause problems, particularly as we age. As we get older the fluid filled discs in our spine can start to 'dry out' a little and reduce in height.

Slumping forward can put additional pressure on the discs which can cause pain if the discs have any small tears and they are held in this position.

So what can we do?

First I would recommend getting checked out by a qualified specialist in back pain, like Otford/Shoreham based osteopath Ian at Ian Thornley Osteopathy.

If you are getting pain when sitting and you are not sure why, getting a back pain specialist to assess your lower back and legs will help rule out a more serious cause and help you understand how you can remedy the problem. Very often - the sooner you get assessed the quicker the recovery!

In the meantime here are some tips to help yourself. As with any self help tips, undertake them with care and if they cause further pain stop immediately and contact a healthcare professional, such as an osteopath.

Regular movement

If you think you may be sitting for some time set yourself a timer (a kitchen timer or your phone work great) for every 30 minutes.

When the timer goes off, get up and move around for a couple of minutes. Try it out - if you can do this every 30 minutes over the course of a working day you'll be amazed at how different you feel at the end of the day!

Slow your speed of sitting down

Try to avoid just flopping into your chair. If you can, sit down in a controlled way, slowly lowering yourself onto the chair. This may be hard work but it will help you strengthen your leg muscles and protect your back.

Can you also stand up without pushing with your arms? See if you can!

Put a pillow or rolled up towel behind your back

This will help you keep that C shape in your low back when you are sitting down, protecting the joints and muscles

If it's sore when you are sitting upright - allow yourself to slouch a little!

If it's sore when you are slouching - sit up a little straighter!

If you are concerned that your back pain is slowing you down, making you feel like taking painkillers, worry about what is happening to your spine or how you will be affected in the future - speak to me - Ian, our osteopath and back pain specialist.

I offer FREE telephone or online video discovery sessions to people who are serious about getting back to their life. These can be booked on our online booking page here.

You can explain your problem to us, ask whatever questions you need and get some free personalised advice.

Alternatively, if you prefer you can contact me via email at

Remember back pain is usually treatable if caught early. As a health conscious person you know that it is ALWAYS best to ask advice from a specialist who has a record of helping people, very much like you, get back to living their life without back pain.

So reach out and get in touch today to start your journey to a pain free back.

If you would like to read more about back pain you can click here to sign up and receive our 21 page guide of expert osteo tips you can try to help your back pain.


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