Unless we have an active job or particularly active pastime, we all spend a lot of time sitting. And many of us sit too much! Be that at a desk, a computer, watching TV, driving, dining, many of us spend hours in a day sitting. But how does sitting cause back pain, and what can be done to avoid it?
There are many reasons for back pain, and there are many reasons why sitting can cause back issues, but here we focus on the tightening and shortening of the muscle group called the hip flexor (iliopsoas muscle group).
Our hip flexors help us to flex (bend) at the hip, as the name suggests. When activated it will pull the body down (although it doesn’t need much help in this direction due to gravity) and/or lift the leg/thigh up, for example in a stepping-up motion. The hip flexors originate in the lower back and come forward, over the front of the hip, inserting into the thigh bone (femur). When we sit, our hip flexor muscles are relaxed and static in a shortened position. If we sit for prolonged periods of time, with our legs between 80-90 degrees, our muscles get used to this position and will shorten and tighten naturally. This is where the problems can start.
If your hip flexor muscles are tight, they are put into a stretched position when you are upright and active. This results in the muscles trying to revert back to their shortened length and pulling on their point of origin in the lower back. So, if your hip flexors have become overly tight and shortened, discomfort may increase in the low back, and back problems can develop over time.
What can be done to prevent tight hip flexors and low back pain?
Move. Find ways during your day to remind yourself to move. Break up long spells of daily sitting. Set a timer to stand every 30 minutes and walk around the office, house, or garden. Marching on the spot or exaggerated strides are good, but anything to straighten out those hips and encourage blood flow by moving.
Stretch. Regular mobilisation and lengthening of the muscle group will relieve pressure on the low back. Daily stretches and regular exercise will help. (Do note that excessive cycling and squatting style exercises may add to hip flexor overuse and shortening)
Strengthen. Core exercises such as Pilates will strengthen and mobilise the whole hip area and importantly, they will help protect the low back and improve posture.
For advice on avoiding back pain, get in touch, we’re happy to offer recommendations and guidance.