It’s popular belief that sitting for work will make people more prone to lower back pain. And it’s a topic that comes up often from my ‘office warrior’ clients.
A review article published by Danish researchers decided to see what the literature said about the supposed relationship between sitting for work and lower back pain. They performed a meta-analysis looking into this relationship based on studies from 1985-1997.
Pervasive throughout all the studies regardless of the quality of the study, they reached a conclusion that there’s lack of a positive association between sitting and susceptibility to lower back pain (LBP).
What’s really interesting is that the high-quality studies showed a negative association for sedentary workers when comparing white collar workers to blue collar workers, office workers to crane operators and straddle-carrier drivers, office workers to machine operators and carpenters, when managerial, administrative and clerical workers were compared to healthcare and social work, commercial, technical, scientific work, agriculture, fishing, transport and communication, manufacturing work, and service work, when white collar workers were compared with plumbers, carpenters, painters, plasterers, brickworkers, or unskillled workers.
So in other words, white collar workers tended to experience less lower back pain than blue-collar workers.
Other reviewed studies reached a similar conclusion – the potential risk factor of sitting for LBP has no association. In fact, white collar workers had less leave of absence compared to nurses, manual workers, drivers, miners, and lumberjacks. Sedentary occupations had a lower than average risk of progressing to chronic LBP compared to other 18 occupational groups.
‘All in all, we consider the idea that sitting-while-at-work causes LBP a myth.’ (Hartvigsen et al., 2000)
Does sitting negatively influence our health?
Another interesting study looking into occupational sitting and its effects on certain health outcomes over a 15-year period concluded sitting isn’t a hazard on one’s health. It turns out sitting workers are NOT at any further risk at being overweight, developing hypertension and increased cholesterol levels, and musculoskeletal issues.
Of course it needs to be stated the underlying health effects of sitting are complex and need further study.
Having a sedentary sitting job doesn’t preclude oneself from having physical symptoms though.
I believe my clients when they tell me their desk job is asking for automatic tensions/tightness/stiffness.
Some folks have higher or lower sitting thresholds.
I think the aforementioned studies were purely testing the potential physical hazard of sitting on a person’s health. Nothing happens in a vacuum. There are additional contributors to my clients’ office-related symptoms.
Just to name a few:
- work satisfaction
- work demand/stress
- chances to take work breaks or lack thereof
- cultural beliefs that sitting is hazardous to one’s health
- stagnancy/ not moving around enough
- lifestyle outside of work
Looking at the whole picture opens up new perspectives for clients.
1)Hartvigsen, J., Corder, E., Lobeouf-Yde, C., Lings, S., (2010)). Is sitting while at work associated with low back pain? A systematic, critical literature review. Scand J Public Health, 2000 28: 230. DOI: 10.1177/14034948000280030201
2) Picavet, HSJ., Pas, LW., van Oostrom, SH., van de Ploeg, HP, Verschuren, WMM., Proper KI., (2016). The relation between occupational sitting and mental, cardiometabolic, musculoskeletal health over a period of 15 years – The Doetinchem Cohort Stud. PLoS ONE ,11(1):e0146639. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0146639
3) Photo credit – pxhere.com