Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

Citation impossible for “sitting a lot causes back pain”

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
Get posts in your inbox:
Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

My 2017 would be off to a great start if only I’d made a New Year’s resolution to be more wrong, more often. I have been proven wrong more than usual lately. What an exciting opportunity to demonstrate integrity in science journalism!

For at least fifteen years, I’ve assumed that lots of sitting is a risk factor for low back pain. I’ve given a lot of advice based on that belief. Unfortunately …

“I’ve made a huge mistake.”

GOB Bluth, Arrested Development

My belief was wrong. A lot of time spent in chairs may be unhealthy in some ways, but they are not the back torture device I once thought. The evidence, which was available the entire time, clearly shows that there is no important link between a lot of sitting and back pain. See Chen et al for one the most recent scientific reviews, but there’s quite a bit more. It’s just not a thing. Treating it like a thing has been one of the most worst bloopers of my career.

How did this happen? Easy: I just never checked. My assumption felt safe enough that I never got that sinking citation-needed feeling. I thought I had bigger research fish to fry. There are a lot of things to pay attention to in musculoskeletal medicine. Surprisingly, I never even stumbled across the evidence, even though I have delved deeply into many similar topics, such as the absence of a clear link between posture and back pain.

I’ll probably be stumbling across minor references to this assumption for years to come in my writing. Meanwhile, three key pages have already been repaired: my report on The Trouble with Chairs, my microbreaking guide, and my low back pain book, where I had to actually completely trash an entire chapter (which I haven’t had to do in years) and write a replacement from scratch. Being wrong is a lot of work!

PainSci Member Login » Submit your email to unlock member content. If you can’t remember/access your registration email, please contact me. ~ Paul Ingraham, PainSci Publisher