Has our grandmothers’ constant reminders to sit straight caused more back aches for us, the poor desk workers working our backs off over desktops?
The past couple of years have been a pain in the back for me. I noticed it first when I found it difficult to stand for long minutes – not hours – in the kitchen. The mild pain the pain in the pelvic region would slowly become unbearable and my back would feel numb and stiff. In fact, I would stop making chapathies (Indian unleavened bread) mid-way, trudge back painfully to the bed and and rest my back. Sometimes I would rest on the sofa for a while, but even lowering myself to sit would be a pain. A few minutes of rest would be enough to let me complete the job sometime later.
This happened the first time when I was at Seattle with my daughter, and she immediately took me to a doctor. The doctor took a series of X-rays of my back, said I had “age-related” lumbar spondylosis that had resulted in the degeneration of the intervertebral disc and reduced their elasticity, causing disk bulges and herniations. The ligaments that surround the disc and the facet joints thicken and become calcified, forming osteophytes.
The lumbar spine carries most of the body’s weight. The doctor prescribed an abdominal belt for me, adding it was only a palliative measure that would slow it down from becoming worse, and warned a correctional surgery may be needed at a later stage. I didn’t find the belt too useful, but nevertheless used it for sometime. Later, I read scientific reports that said lumbar supports were not effective.
I started doing a few back exercises and it did improve my back by strengthening the abdominal muscles. Even then, the pain continued, and was particularly bad on a few days. I later found constipation and abdominal bloating made the condition worse, so I started being more careful. I also learnt that drinking a lot of water in the morning would improve matters, and found that it did.
I started reading a lot about how posture affected the back. There are many different muscle groups that keeps us upright and the vertebrae sitting properly on top of one another without pinching the nerves of the back. I learned about pelvic tilts, tucks and lifts and how they strengthened my core, toning and lengthening the stomach, back, hip and leg muscles. I would describe these techniques in a later article.
In the meanwhile, the time I sat at the desk increased, especially because it seemed to offer me a respite from standing. But the more I sat at the desk, the worse I felt while standing, though the sitting itself didn’t feel bad. I knew constant sitting was the problem, so I tried to sit upright, slightly pulling my stomach in whenever I remembered and kept my spine long. It didn’t help much.
Then I read a report that said sitting straight, maintaining a rigid right angle cause back aches.
Researchers have found that a “135-degree back-thigh sitting posture” was the best posture to avoid back problems—that is, leaning back in the chair 45 degrees. The conventional 90-degree position contributed most to strain on the spine, while the 135-degree position was the most relaxed.
The following picture shows the amount of lumbar movements when you move from a standing (a) to right angle sitting (c) and bent-over positions (d). Only the sitting posture (b) is equivalent to the natural resting position, where the lumbar curve is retained and the muscles are relaxed and well-balanced.
To produce this “Balanced Seating“, the researchers recommend seats that tilt forward.
In the above figure, the best results are produced by (c).
I have decided to minimize the duration of each sitting session. That should help me. But I have no idea right now, where I am going to the forward reclining chair and a suitable work table for me.