‘I’m a Chiropractor and This Is Why Working From Your Couch Is Hurting Your Back’

Photo: Getty Images/Lilly Roadstone
The urge to spend your life draped across a sofa is nothing new. It makes sense: the way it holds you after a long day, how your whole body just melts into the cushions and the fact that you quite literally get to kick your feet up and relax. No one can blame you if you tend to, well, stay on your couch all day long. However, with many of us still working from home, being sprawled across the couch can result in some serious back and neck pain (i.e., "tech neck" or "couch slouch"), misalignment in your hips and pelvis, stress on your spine, postural problems, and a chorus of oofs and grunts when you finally stand up.

Experts In This Article

Even though it seems so comfortable, "this discomfort results from the body position we often subconsciously assume when looking at screens," says Matthew Cooper, DC, a chiropractor based in Florida. In this position, your chin comes, your shoulders round, and often your neck is flexed to look down at your phone, keyboard, and computer for an extended period. This position can impact your posture in the long term, making many functional movements more difficult. It can also weaken your core muscles which are necessary for both workouts and day-to-day activities. It can also cause pulling in the muscles in your neck and knots in your shoulders and upper back.

To help, we spoke to him to find out which positions are the worst for your back and neck and rounded up a series of tips for a pain-free WFC (Work From Couch) day.

3 less-than-ideal ways to sit on a couch

1. Legs elevated on the sofa and upper body is twisted out to the side

Sitting in this position, though it may feel comfortable in the short term (and allow you to face a TV playing behind your work computer), means that your spine is in a twisted position. This can cause pinching, tension, unnecessary muscle pulling, pain in your back and hips, and poor pelvic alignment, Dr. Cooper explains.

2. Slouching low against the arm of your sofa with your legs extended out on an ottoman

Since posture causes many of our back pain woes, sitting slumped against the arm or side of your couch is less than ideal. Doing this causes a curve in your spine that puts pressure on the intervertebral discs and can worsen posture in the long term caused by a weakened core. Your spine not being neutral also means that your neck and shoulder muscles have to work harder to keep you upright, causing strain to keep your head lifted.

3. Slouching low against the back of the sofa with your feet on the ground

Similarly, slouching against the back of your sofa with no support behind you also causes the dreaded spinal C-curve. This puts added pressure on the spine, neck, and shoulders and gives no support for your thighs. When your thighs are hanging off the couch and not letting your feet stay planted on the ground, forcing your body to sit up straight causes strain in your thoracic spine. Thigh support is vital because tight hamstrings can contribute to back pain.

Tips for working from your sofa without back pain

If you prefer working from your couch, maintaining proper alignment from your neck through your hips and pelvis is essential. Dr. Cooper recommends sitting with your feet flat on the floor with your back fully supported by pillows, so you are propped upright. "Make sure your buttocks are pressed firmly against the back of your couch with a small cushion, or roll up a towel and keep it pressed against your lower back. This should allow your lower back to arch back slightly and not slump forward," he explains. This also keeps your head in line with your shoulders and spine and your hips in a neutral position.

Dr. also stresses the importance of sitting in a position where you can keep your eye level straight ahead, aimed at the center of your computer screen rather than pointed down at your lap. "If you're looking down at your screen, raise it up using books or boxes. This will help keep your spine aligned and prevent related pains," Dr. Cooper adds. "When you're typing on your keyboard, your arms should also be at your sides and elbows bent to 90 degrees." Finally, and most importantly, remember to stand up every 20 to 30 minutes and shake or stretch it out for a minute or two.

Oh hi! You look like someone who loves free workouts, discounts for cutting-edge wellness brands, and exclusive Well+Good content. Sign up for Well+, our online community of wellness insiders, and unlock your rewards instantly.

Loading More Posts...