*** This Post is Part of a Multi-Series on How To Fix Your Back Pain Forever.
Sitting All Day And Your Back Hurts Like Hell?
Let me guess — you sit all day at work and your back hurts like hell? Yep, sounds like me too. In fact, my back pain got so bad that it progressed to neck pain and then eventually insomnia because of the discomfort I was having.
That’s what prompted me to do research (3 years of it) on my back pain and eventually write this ultimate back pain guide.
In the first part I gave a brief introduction to the two things that pretty much eliminated 95% of my back pain on a daily basis.
Right now I want to talk about a postural technique that I use every single day at work because it works so well. It’s Esther Gokhale’s Stacksitting.
Table of Awesomeness
- Part 1 – How Does Your Back Look Now? (How to Analyze Your Back Posture)
- Part 2: Sitting Without Pain (Stacksitting 101)
- Problems & Troubleshooting
- How-To Video
Watch This How-to Video First
How to Sit All Day With a Pain-Free Back – Stacksitting
See the baby in that picture? That’s what perfect spinal posture looks like. You often still see it in Asian cultures where sitting on the ground is common even as adults so people never lose the flexibility.
For many of us westerners though… yeah, that’s a problem.
Not only do we lose the flexibility, we lose the good habits we had as flexible kids. So when we go to sit all day in an office chair it’s the same situation — we’re reinforcing bad posture leading us down the road to pain.
Part 1 – How Does Your Back Look Now?
WARNING: If you have any suspicion of a herniated disc, DO NOT TRY THIS EXERCISE because tilting the pelvis has the potential to pinch the disc.
Did your mother ever tell you sit up straight at the dinner table? As it turns out, that was pretty bad advice…
The picture on the left is proper posture. The picture in the center is what happens when you slouch. The picture on the right is when your mom says “Sit up straight!” and you tighten up your lower back. You appear to be sitting up straight, but in reality you are compromising your posture by putting tension into the lower back. In all likelihood you will still experience back pain.
The key to awesomeness here is instead to get your butt back and slightly rotate your pelvis forward. That helps the lower back relax, and will align the spine. Now let’s talk about how to do that, because it’s often difficult to do for most of us who are used to tucking the pelvis and being hunched over like cavemen all day.
Step 1: Place a Chair Sideways In Front of The Mirror (So you can see your profile)
Step 2: Sit on the Front of the Chair Away From the Backrest
You want to make sure you are sitting on the edge of the chair. Try to assume your normal seated posture, and look at the following images (in step 3) to see which one it most resembles. This will be a key indicator and key insight into your posture — if you are unsure, the vast majority of modern “sitters” have a tucked pelvis and a rounded back. The typical computer neanderthal posture.
Step 3: Look in the Mirror to Assess The Position of Your Pelvis (Which Neanderthal Are You?)
Which one of these looks most like your pelvic posture?
A. The Basket-Carrying African Queen (straight)
B. The Surgery Tech Who Sits Too Much (rounded)
C. The Nerdy Kid Who Sits Way Too Much (severely tucked pelvis)
D. The Over-Compensating Model Who Thinks She’s Sexy But Really is Ruining Her Back
Step 4: Check The Shape of Your Lower Back
So which one of those 4 most looks like your pelvis alignment?
- Straight (ideal)
- Tucked (rounded lower back, usually with head & shoulders forward and lots of neck & shoulder tension)
- Severely tucked
- Overly tipped pelvis (overly arched back) — Usually found in people who overcompensate for hunched shoulders, who are told to “Sit up straight!” by mom.
Step 5: Using Your Fingertips, Check the Spinal Groove in Your Back
Find the middle of your lower back — feel the individual vertebrae of your spine there? Now feel the muscles that are on either side of those vertebrae – is the groove deep or shallow?
Are the ridges on either side like a tightly drawn bow or are they relaxed?
Compare your spine to one of the three following pictures:
A. An ideal back has: a mild groove, embedded bumps (the vertebrae), and soft ridges on either side of the groove.
B. A rounded lower back has: no groove, prominent vertebrae, and subtle or no ridges
C. A swayed lower back has: a deep groove and taut muscle ridges on either side of the groove (because you’re flexing the back muscles). The vertebrae inbetween the muscules are difficult to feel and are mostly hidden.
Now that you have a few key pieces of information, let’s jump into the how-to.
Part 2: Sitting Without Back Pain
Step 1: Place A Wedge (or Pillow) On The Chair
A pillow or wedge will do exactly what your old piano teacher told you — sit up straight. The point of the wedge is that it helps keep your pelvis angled forward (which is how it should be) and not backward – which will result in slouching and back / neck pain.
Step 2: Bend at Your Hips And Then At Your Knees, Lowering Yourself Onto the Front Edge of the Wedge / Pillow
It’s important that you don’t just sit down on the chair or else you’re gonna mess up your pelvis alignment — so to start, you want to exaggerate this entire movement and stick your butt out while sitting down.
Pretend you’re trying to sit on the toilet and you should re-create the movement perfectly.
Step 3: Slightly Clench Your Stomach & Sit up Straight
This part is important. While you’re slowly sitting up, gently clench your ab muscles and use them to sit up straight and keep your body straightened out.
Many people will overly arch their lower back and then just sit up straight — this is incorrect and you’ll probably end up having a lower back ache after awhile.
Step 4: Perform a Shoulder Roll
Since you’re already sitting up, the last two things are to make sure that your shoulder and neck alignment is okay.
Take one shoulder, and slowly push it forward until it’s as far forward as it can go.
Then slowly rotate it up towards your ear — and then all the way down back. Make sure you aren’t arching your back to try and compensate.
Do the same with the other shoulder, and once they are rotated back, let them relax in that position.
Step 5: Lengthen Your Neck
Gokhale gives a couple recommendations for tips to lengthen the neck:
- A. Imagine a helium balloon inside your head — release any tension in your neck, and imagine it pulling your head up into the air.
- B. Grab a clump of your hair at the base of your skull, and gentle pull your head back and up (see image above)
- C. Grasp the base of your skull with both hands and gently pull upward while lowering your shoulders
- D. Place an object on your head (like a towel — or imagine it), and push up against it
Problems / Troubleshooting
“I’m slumped over still”
If you still feel like your shoulders are hunched over, you didn’t tip your pelvis far enough forward. Briefly sit forward again, and try getting your butt a bit higher up on the pillow or wedge. Then slightly clench your abs as you sit up so you maintain a straight spine.
You can also literally even pull your butt cheeks out, farther up on the cushion.
You overtipped your pelvis, you probably now have an overly arched lower back. You can fix that by sitting forward a bit to the left, then slightly pulling the right butt cheek forward. And then doing the same with the left side.
Watch the Video Again to Confirm You Did it Right
Next in the Series: How to Sleep Like a Drunk Baby (Even if Your Back Hurts)
This technique (stacksitting) in combination with the first technique I described in part 1 literally saved my life because I sit for 60+ hours a week.
Since using this technique for my back pain, nothing before or after has come even close to working better on a daily basis. Hence it’s one of the most important habits I’ve engrained into my daily behavior.
Next, I’ll talk about part 3: Gokhale’s method for pain-free sleeping. For those of you who can’t seem to get comfortable while sleeping, whose neck or back hurts – you will love this. Remember the last time you laid down on your bed and almost instantly passed out? Didn’t think so.
This technique will do that, and it feels insanely good..
Sources: Esther Gokhale’s Book: 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back
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