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How to Realign Your Hips to Relieve Neck and Back Pain

Posted May 12 2009 4:14pm

Did you know that neck pain and lower back pain are often the result of the same underlying causes?

Of all the repetitive stress injuries, neck and back problems may be the most debilitating and despiriting. Not only do they hinder our ability to be productive at work and worry us about job security, but they make us worry about what our friends and families think of us as we slow down and lose energy for life.

Fortunately, chronic neck and back pain can often be reduced or eliminated by correctly positioning one set of joints–the hips. In order to do this, all you need is the right chair, or to make a few tweaks in the setup of your current chair.

Chair Design and How We Sit

Leading ergonomists and physical therapists agree that the standard 90 degree angle chair seat is one of the worst things to happen to human health and physical well being. Furthermore, studies by A.C. Mandal, M.D., a Copenhagen-based researcher of New Ergonomics, revealed that the common approach to fixing low back pain–lumbar support–doesn’t actually fix the root cause.

We now know that the thigh is only capable of rotating upwards about 60 degrees in the hip socket for most of us, which is well below the “thighs parallel to the ground” position advocated by the old ergonomics. When we raise our thighs the extra 30 degrees to parallel, our pelvis tilts backwards to compensate. The pelvis pointing backwards also points the natural head spine line backwards.

Try leaning your body backwards and then holding it there. Doesn’t take long to get uncomfortable and tired, does it? So we end up compensating by curling our spine into a C shape with the lower back protruding and head jutted forward, in order to maintain our balance. Both of these are unnatural positions, and voila, we wind up with neck and back pain.

The simple fix is to correct our hip angle by allowing the thighs to drop below parallel to 120 degree or a greater angle with the torso. This restores the pelvis to its natural upright position and allows us to sit effortlessly in a great posture. Restoring the pelvis to its natural position also automatically restores the curve in the lower back making lumbar support largely a non-issue. With our head-spine line now pointed vertically instead of leaning backwards, the head now easily rests atop a long, clean body line. By simply correcting our hip angle, we have now eliminated both poor body positions that create neck and back pain in one fell swoop.

How To Readjust Your Chair

First off, you need a chair that allows you to make these adjustments. Look for chairs with adjustable tilt (make sure it goes forward) and sliding seat pans. Many newer, quality chairs offer these features, but if your current chair doesn’t have them I highly recommend getting a new chair. Many people find that the Humanscale Freedom Chair personalizes to the best overall fit for their body. Kneeling chairs, though not for everyone, are also great options as they come purpose built for the correct hip angle. The best ones are made by Varier and Jobri.

[Editor's note: You can also find kneeling chairs at many thrift shops or yard sales at inexpensive prices.]

Once you have your chair, slide the seat pan back so you have a good 4 inches or more space between the edge of your chair and the back of your knees. You may need more room if you are taller. The key is to make sure that you can feel your two sit bones planted firmly on the seat, and that the seat pan is far enough back that you can feel your thighs comfortably drop.

Next, you will want to tilt your seat slightly forwards. You want to find the balance between tilting your seat enough that you feel the curve in your lower back open up and too much to the point that you slide off of your seat.

In the correct position you should feel yourself sitting effortlessly upright with a long, clean body line and your head easily balanced on top. You may also consider a monitor arm or stand to raise your screen since correcting your seated position usually increases your seated height.

Healthy Posture Increases Confidence

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations on taking your first steps on your way to stopping neck and back pain. When we start correcting the poor positions that cause us to experience pain we actually experience something more than pain relief. Good body positions re-inforce strong, confident posture, and in turn foster feelings of emotional strength and confidence.

When I first started getting into ergonomics and taking control of my personal workspace, I had a classic case of stooped “computer neck” and was well on my way to developing a fine hump. The first change I made was getting a kneeling chair. Within a couple of weeks I started to notice a huge difference. At the end of my work day I was still walking tall and proud. Not only did I not hurt, I genuinely felt more confident about myself. I wish the same for you.

Source: Brian owns and operates Body Correct Living, a specialist store for ergonomic chairs and accessories. Brian also offers ergonomics, health, and fitness tips on the Body Correct Living Blog.

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