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Secrets to Pain-Free Sitting

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Photo Credit: fizkes/Thinkstock

I’m reading Cathryn Ramin’s excellent forthcoming book, Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery. (Stay tuned for the upcoming review in Spirituality & Health.) It’s made me suddenly fascinated with all things spinal-related. For this week’s Healthy Habit, I’m wondering, what are the best practices when it comes to sitting for extended periods of time? Us desk jockeys suffer from stiffer hips and weakened muscles in the abs and core—all of which can add up to lower back pain. Here’s how to sit, better:

Chair. How high should this darn thing be? Do I need a $1,200 Ergonomic Euro Air Pricey in mica-silver-black? That’s up to you, but according to Apartment Therapy, here’s how to get the height part correct: Stand in front of the chair, and adjust it so that the top of the cushion hits right below the kneecap.

Feet. Uncrossed and flat on the floor. Now when I said “desk jockeys,” many of us are truly under 5´4´´. If you happen to be on the shorter side, consider a foot rest, which helps keep the body’s weight evenly distributed.

Knees. According to the American Chiropractic Association, sit with the knees at or below the level of the hips and keep a small gap between the back of the knees and the front of the seat.

Tush. Um, keep it in action! Try a wobble cushion or “balance disk.” These puffy plastic inflatable cushions keep your muscles engaged. Use it for half an hour or so at first to see how it feels. Gaiam and Stott Pilates make them, as do many other brands.

Back. Fill the hollow of your back with a lumbar support, suggests the Cleveland Clinic. For example, a pillow, rolled-up towel or specially designed lumbar cushion.

Brain. For more on the subject of sitting and what is and is not bad for you, read an excellent article, “The Trouble With Chairs,” by a former massage therapist and science writer, Paul Ingraham, of PainScience.com.

Lastly, don’t forget to stand up as much as possible. Here is our article on “6 Ways to Move Every Hour.


Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. Her latest book is Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.


Kathryn Drury Wagner

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.  


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