How Bad Is It to Sit at Your Desk All Day?

Besides a sore bum, here’s what’s at risk.

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Increasing numbers of jobs take place at an office, so it’s no surprise that the vast majority of Americans spend their day glued to a desk chair. “Many Americans spend 80 percent or more of their day sitting,” says Kaliq Chang, MD, pain specialist.

You might have heard of “sitting disease” by now, the official term for health conditions caused or perpetuated by a sedentary lifestyle. Too much sitting has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Here are more health risks of sitting too much.

But that’s not all: Long periods of sitting can also “contribute to or worsen back pain, especially if you have poor posture or a chair with bad supports,” says Dr. Chang.

Although the best thing you can do is take frequent breaks from your chair, there are also ways to fix your posture to reduce pain:

  • Use good posture when sitting. You should be able to draw a straight line down your body—from a centered head, down the spine, through the hips, and to the ankles, says Dr. Chang. Avoid crossing your legs. Research shows that repeated slouching adds up over time and can make your spine more fragile and prone to injury or pain, according to the National Institutes of Health.

  • Pick a supportive chair. It might be worth it to pay a little extra for something with proper lumbar support. If budget is an issue, you can hack it: “You can roll up a towel or place a pillow behind your lower back to increase your lumbar support,” suggests Dr. Chang.

  • Level out your lower joints. Your hips and knees should be level and at an equal height. This provides a sturdy foundation, so your back and neck muscles don’t have to work quite as hard to stay tall and straight. If you have short legs or a tall chair, you can “elevate your feet with a stool or stack of books to relieve some of the pressure on your spine,” says Dr. Chang.

  • Evaluate your ergonomics. Your desk setup plays a big role in your posture. Something as simple as the tilt of your computer monitor may be enough to have you slouching and squinting from 9 to 5. A good desk setup helps your neck remain in a neutral position. Here are tips for desk setup to help your posture.

  • Adjust your seat height. Any chair worth its salt can be raised or lowered, so tweak it until it’s high enough that your shoulders don’t hunch up or strain. They should feel neutral and level as you type.

  • Stand up. If you’re lucky enough to have a standing desk, these can be a great way to take a break from your seat. But keep this in mind: “Standing all day can be just as detrimental as sitting all day because of the inactivity itself,” says Dr. Chang. In other words, it’s a good idea to take active breaks—whether you’re standing or sitting. Try a walking meeting, take the stairs, and do stretches at your desk. For more tips, here are 8 habits for a healthier day at the office.

If you’ve made all these changes and you’re still having back pain, here are other common causes of back pain you may be experiencing.