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Live Pain-Free Without Drugs or Surgery

by Lee Albert

If you suffer from chronic pain, you may simply need to learn how to sit properly. According to Lee Albert, a neuromuscular therapist at Kripalu and developer of Integrated Positional Therapy, most of us have similar muscular imbalances due to the similar activities we perform each day. In this excerpt from Lee’s new guidebook, Living Pain-Free Without Drugs or Surgery: How to Use Integrated Positional Therapy to Eliminate Chronic Pain, he offers clear instructions on how to alleviate pain by making a few simple adjustments to the way you sit at your desk, in your car, and everywhere else.

In my 25 years of helping people, I have identified three activities that almost everybody does and which cause 50–60% of all the pain I treat. These activities are: sitting in a chair, sitting in a car and sitting at a computer. It is not the computer or the chair or the car causing the pain but the way you are using those instruments. If you just do these three things a little differently, half of your pain can be eliminated.

Most people have the same or similar muscular imbalances in their bodies. This coincidence is explained by the fact that we do similar activities all day long. For example, most of us drive a car, sit at a computer or slump in our chairs for a good part of the day. These positions will bring about similar muscular aches and pains. Almost everyone has tight neck muscles, whether they hurt or not. Neck tightness is caused by slumping over the computer or steering wheel or just walking with your head forward of the body. These positions all cause the neck to be tight.

Almost everyone also has a pelvis that is out of balance, i.e. crooked. It is crucial that the pelvis be brought back into balance. There are three ways the pelvis is usually out of balance.

  1. One hip is higher than the other. This then looks like one leg is shorter. Although the leg is not truly shorter, it is functionally shorter when walking, which puts undue strain on the body structure.
  2. The pelvis is rotated. If you lie on your back on the floor and your feet turn way out, your hip is rotated. This puts a lot of strain on the low back and the knees.
  3. The pelvis is tilted either forward or backward. This imbalance will give you an exaggerated curve in your low back and also puts undo strain on the entire body structure.
Proper Sitting Position
Sit with a pillow or a small rolled-up towel placed in the lumbar curve, just above the belt line. The pillow should be thick enough to bring your head back over your shoulders and open the chest. If it is too thick it will hurt and if it is not thick enough your head will be forward of your body. The correct position allows the skeleton to support your body and should feel comfortable. This will contribute to overall good posture and reduced back and neck pain. If this is painful, disregard for now.
Improper Sitting Position
This typical unsupported position can cause muscle tension in the low back, upper back, neck and shoulders. This position can also make the hips uneven and lead to disc problems. In this position, your muscles are working to hold you up, creating tension and pain.
Proper Computer Position
When sitting at your desk, keep your elbows by your side. Arms should be bent about 90 degrees. To find this position, stand normally with your arms at your side. Bend the elbows to 90 degrees. That should be how it looks and feels when you are sitting. The computer monitor should be eye height and straight in front of you so you are not bending your neck. Feet should be flat on the floor or on a foot rest. Dangling feet can cause low back pain and poor circulation.
Improper Computer Position
This position can cause muscle tension in the jaw, shoulder and neck. Do not reach for the mouse or keyboard.
Proper Driving Position
When driving, use your pillow or towel and keep your elbows at your side. Hands should be at about the 8:00 and 4:00 positions. This position allows your bones to support your body, avoids excessive muscle tension in neck and shoulders and helps to avoid potential trauma to the face if your air bags deploy. Many states now teach their new drivers to hold the wheel at 8:00 and 4:00 as a safety precaution to prevent injury from airbag deployment.
Improper Driving Position
Driving with hands at 10:00 and 2:00 positions can cause muscle tension in the upper back, shoulders and neck.

Lee Albert, NMT, is a national presenter and neuromuscular therapist and yoga instructor at Kripalu. Lee created, practices, and teaches Integrated Positional Therapy-protocols that reduce and often eliminate chronic pain. Lee is trained in neuromuscular therapy, orthopedic massage, positional therapy, yoga therapy, and myofascial release.

Find out about upcoming programs with Lee Albert.