Desk work and back pain go hand in hand, but it doesn't have to be that way. If you want to improve your sitting posture, fix your back pain, and learn how to have a healthier spine when working at your desk... I have one simple concept that is revolutionary.
Develop good sitting habits, and you'll save yourself a lot of pain down the road.
We've all heard the basic ergonomic ideas before, so I'm not going to talk about having your feet hit the floor and placing your keyboard at a comfortable height. If you need a refresher, here's a great buzzfeed video: How to Sit Properly [1:36].
Instead, I want to zoom in on one very important detail: what's actually hitting the seat.
When we slouch, we roll our pelvis backwards and end up sitting on our tailbone (leftmost posture in the image above). Our tailbones are delicate and not designed to bear weight like this.
Not only is this bad for the tailbone, but it can cause misalignment of the sacro-iliac joints (where the tailbone meets the pelvis), and from there, cause a chain reaction of discomfort all the way up the spine.
Then you realize "Whoops, I'm slouching again," and sit up straight... Except you over-correct, and end up tightening your low back in a hyperlordotic curve (middle posture in the image above). Now that's a whole other kind of back pain.
Instead, let's find an in-between, the perfect balance where the pelvis is not tilted forwards or backwards but balanced on its points.
The pelvis has two big bumps on the bottom, called ischial tuberosities, ischium, or simply, the sits-bones. These bumps are designed to hold your weight safely, unlike your tailbone.
Practice sitting on your sits-bones, and your low back will thank you.
It can be a bit difficult to get in touch with your sits-bones the first time. Take a minute now to roll your pelvis around and tilt it back and forth.
It helps to sit on a firmer chair for this exercise (think wooden stool), so you can really feel the connection of bone to seat.
You can also slide a hand between your seat and bum to feel for the sits-bone bumps. It should be easy to feel with your palm; this is not a small bone.
Once you've got a feel for your sits-bones, you're well on your way to beautiful posture and less low back pain.
Try this to improve your seated posture:
Roll your pelvis back and forth until you're sitting on your sits-bones.
Make sure your weight is even left-and-right. A common mistake is to slouch sideways, and only put your weight on one sits-bone. This will cause lateral misalignment and and ultimately, back pain.
Tilt your chair forward. When you sit on a slope, it naturally rolls you off your tailbone and encourages you to sit on your sits-bones. This is a great posture correcting cheat!
Once you've found your seat, allow your posture to rise from the pelvis up. Imagine your spine reaching upwards with every inhale, like your head is floating at the top of a water fountain.
Using a firmer chair at your desk for a week is a good idea if you're trying to re-learn how to sit. There's less leeway: you pretty much have to sit in an aligned way or it's gets uncomfortable.
Want more tips?
Rebecca DiLiberto is a yoga teacher who 100% gets it. This 4-minute video helps you get in touch with your own pelvis and create solutions for imperfect work stations. Give it a watch:
Find Your SIT bones [3:53]
Who knew that sitting could be so technical? The things they don't teach you in school...
Now that you've figured out seated posture, take the easiest step to improve your posture and myofascial health: sleeping posture!
Or, if you're beyond preventative medicine and need some immediate relief, try Functional Rest to ease back pain (or get a massage).
I hope this is helpful for you. One final tip: if you get too into your computer and forget to take breaks and sit up straight, I recommend installing a reminder app. Reminder apps can be game-changers when you're trying to build good habits and re-learn how you sit at your desk. Stretchly is a good one that works on any OS. Good luck!
Jesse Martel is a Licensed Massage Therapist who practices in Seattle, Washington. She has helped many people overcome neck/shoulder injuries and chronic back pain with Upgraded Myofascial Release massage. Treatment includes Aromatherapy, Myofascial Release, Cupping, Lymphatic Drainage, and Kinesiology Tape at one flat rate. Her website is SageBodyworkSeattle.com.