Sitting at a desk all day, like the majority of working adults do in industrialized nations, has been shown to be a risk factor for low-back pain, among other work injuries and pain. If you spend most of your work-day sitting, you may be among the 89% of workers who claim musculoskeletal pain, as we reported in a recent article. The link between sitting and back pain is likely related to sustained body postures that are outside of neutral posture. A long time sitting in a posture not neutral has been shown to cause prolonged muscle contractions and pressure to the intervertebral disc. While you’re sitting, your lumbar spine flattens and strain on your posterior spine increases. It has been suggested that these areas of pressure can be minimized by maintaining the natural lordotic curvature of the spine while in a sitting position.
Lumbar support devices have been created as a possible way to maintain proper posture while seated, and many health-care providers prescribe these to back-pain patients. But do they work to improve sitting posture and helping workers feel more comfort and less pain?
Researchers went about investigating the effectiveness of lumbar supports in a recent study. While other studies have focused on support devices, research about them has mostly been limited to healthy participants, so for this study, the focus was on people with low-back pain. The study authors also wanted to use a quantitative measure of comfort that has been missing from most previous investigations.
They recruited 28 men, including some with back pain as well as healthy controls. The study compared the outcome when participants sat for 30 minutes in a standard office chair versus 30 minutes in a chair with a lumbar support pillow, outfitted with a cut-out on the bottom. Researchers measured lumbar and thoracolumbar postures, in addition to measuring comfort level.
The lumbar support pillow helped participants decrease lumbar flattening, indicating better sitting posture than without the support. However, the pillow was shown to slightly increase thoracolumbar curvature. Pressure on the spine was also improved using the device. While the researchers found objective improvement in the measure of comfort, the support did not result in subjective changes in comfort.
This study was limited by a small sample size, only male participants with varying degrees of low-back pain (mostly mild), and measurements limited to only 30 minutes of sitting. The study authors concluded that further research should investigate the long-term benefits of using lumbar pillows in both men and women with a higher intensity of back pain.
Chiropractic spinal adjustments are supported by research as a means to relieve back pain associated with jobs spent sitting. Your chiropractor can help you treat and prevent work-related back pain, and can prescribe a lumbar pillow if one is appropriate for your situation.
Grondin D, Triano J, Steven T, Soave D. The effect of a lumbar support pillow on lumbar posture and comfort during a prolonged seated task. Chiropractic & Manual Therapies 2013; 21:21. doi:10.1186/2045-709X-21-21.