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  • Writer's pictureaspirephysiouk

Low Back Pain Rant - Using a rolled up towel when sitting

Today I've lost the plot and couldn't stop myself having a rant at some poor guy on Instagram.

This kind of misinformation makes my blood boil, but it made me think, perhaps I should be doing more to inform rather than rant at those at misinform.

So hear goes... Why did I get so angry at this picture and this guys advice. He was advocating the use of a rolled up towel to support your spines natural curves in sitting, seems harmless enough. He suggested an alternative to the rolled up towel which was to contract your core to help maintain your spinal curves. Both are bits of advice I've heard given time and time again.

However they are both outdated ideas and to my mind potentially damaging to people with perfectly healthy backs.

If you've had a bad back you might have been given this same advice and are wondering why I have a problem with it.

Well consider this - how did you sit before you started to have a bad back? Did you have think about how you should sit? Did you use rolled up towels behind your back for all those years that you were pain free? No? So now you've had a bad back for a few months or years and are using a rolled up towel everyday - has your pain gone? Is your back now better than it ever was? No?

Why not??? You've been told its good for you? Clearly the reason your back is bad is because you were sat 'wrong' all of those years when your back was pain free.

OK I'm becoming to sarcastic now but do you see what I'm getting at?

Pain is an output of the brain. Your back is constantly sending messages to your brain about pressure, temperature and chemicals (notice no pain messages). Your brain chooses whether these messages are important and listens only if it is interested. Think for a moment about sitting in a car for 2 hours on a miserable day bored as you could possibly be compared to sitting for 2 hours in the cinema watching a film you're really enjoying and distracted, in which scenario do you notice that you are uncomfortable first?

Your brain interprets these messages and produces the sensation of pain if it thinks that you are at the risk of harm and wants you to take action (in this case it really wants you to move around, backs LOVE to move).

Now if you've had your head filled with rubbish about posture and that you should only sit in a certain position do you think this makes your brain listen to more messages from your back or less? Do you think your brain might become more cautious and potentially come more readily to the conclusion that sitting is harmful if you've been exposed to this kind of misinformation?

Trying to actively contract your core to sit is a ridiculous thing to suggest!!!! Lets go back to the earlier example of how you had no back pain for years and years without ever doing this. Now you're trying to contract your core while sitting and have ongoing pain.

It is the fact that you'e been told to be cautious of your back in the first place that is the problem. Backs are incredibly robust and strong structures, they love to move and be used, love to lift heavy objects, twist, turn and bend. As soon as we begin to consciously adapt what our backs are doing (even though we mean well) we're sensitising the system and are much more likely to get pain as a result.

Please please please sit however you want! However feels comfortable do it! Just remember movement is king!!! No posture is great for long periods of time, so shuffle around in your seat, get up, move, sit back down, use a cushion, don't use a cushion, even a rolled up towel if you must, it doesn't matter!

You might notice I even included a rolled up towel there. Because it will do you no harm what so ever, but nor will slouching. Its not the towel that is the problem here, its the idea that there is a right and wrong, that people need to make a conscious decision or need to be aware of how they sit. This is the real issue.

So please go home, don't worry, slouch, be happy, move around, just be comfortable!!!

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