What Causes Pain When Sitting?

Dan Cavallari

Pain when sitting can be caused by many conditions, including sciatica, arthritis, disc herniation, poor posture, myofascial pain syndrome, injuries from trauma, and even simply tired muscles. People who sit for long periods of time are particularly susceptible to pain when sitting; people who work at a desk all day, or people who are confined to wheelchairs are likely to experience pain when sitting at some point. The severity of the pain may be cause for a doctor's visit, though in most cases, changes to one's daily routines and sitting habits is enough to remedy the problem.

Sciatica and poor posture can cause pain when sitting.
Sciatica and poor posture can cause pain when sitting.

Myofascial pain syndrome is a condition in which certain areas of the body experience pain. The pain can be severe and it is usually traced back to a trigger point, or part of the body that leads to the pain. Knotted muscles are usually the cause of pain when sitting in this case, and a visit to the doctor can help a sufferer come up with a plan to combat the condition. This condition is still not understood very well, even by professionals, so treatment options will vary and will have mixed results, depending on the sufferer's reaction to the treatments.

Long periods of sitting at a desk with poor posture can cause back pain.
Long periods of sitting at a desk with poor posture can cause back pain.

Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve that runs from the lower back and down the back of each leg becomes compressed for any reason, often leading to aching, sharp pains, numbness, or tingling anywhere along the length of the legs, buttocks, hips, and lower back. This is a common cause of pain when sitting, and it can be caused by tight or inflamed muscles and tendons, or by a herniated disc in the spine. A herniated disc occurs when the spinal disc that sits between two vertebrae bulges, thereby pressing against the nerves that run near the spine. A spinal disc can compress the sciatic nerve, leading to pain when sitting.

Poor posture is a very common cause of pain when sitting, especially among office workers. When the lower back is not adequately supported by a chair, the muscles that support the back can become tired, which will lead to tension in those muscles. The tighter the muscles are, the more discomfort one will feel; those tight muscles can begin pulling on the spine, hips, and other bones and joints, thereby leading to unnatural movements in the body. Getting up from the chair periodically and stretching can help prevent pain and increase blood flow, and using an ergonomic chair can increase support of the lower back, neck, and shoulders.

A herniated disc can be extremely painful when sitting.
A herniated disc can be extremely painful when sitting.

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Discussion Comments


@Iluviaporos - I've done that before as well. And it does take a while to clear up. I found that using a ring to sit on really helped, even though everyone around me thought it was hilarious.

I also find that having a decent chair helps with having to sit down all day as well. But if you are having sudden, serious issues with pain while sitting, I would go to the doctor and make sure it isn't a symptom of something else, like a ruptured disc or something.


@KoiwiGal - There are applications you can get that will give you a little alarm or email, or maybe a text message when you should be getting up to exercise a little bit. I don't find that stretching exercises are enough to really prevent lower back pain when I'm at a desk too much. I have to go swimming or cycling during my lunch hour or it will be sore until I sleep it off.

The pain isn't usually while I'm sitting though, so much as something I notice once I stand up again.

The only time I ever had pain when I was sitting was when I cracked my tailbone. I sat down hard on a chair that had a ridge sticking out and hurt it that way and apparently there isn't any way of treating that kind of injury. You've just got to coddle it and let it clear up on its own.


I start feeling a lot of pain in my back and legs when I sit at my desk for a full day. I'll get engrossed in my work and forget to walk around a little bit and change position as much as I should.

My stepfather has just had his work start encouraging everyone to do desk exercises in the morning and after their lunch break and he's been complaining about it like it's a joke, but I actually think that should just be a mandatory part of everyone's day if they have to sit at a desk. It makes sense and I try to do it, but sometimes I forget.

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