Once you've gotten through back surgery, you're most likely eager to start your pain-free life.  Unfortunately, simple activities like sitting can be a struggle. How do you overcome the battle to sit comfortably after back surgery? Here, we have the information you so desperately need.

What to Expect Immediately after Back Surgery

The hours immediately after back surgery are particularly important for proper recovery. Your nurses will help you roll out of bed to stand for a few minutes within hours of leaving the recovery room. Using a "log roll" technique, you'll turn your hips and shoulders at the same time (to avoid twisting and bending) before standing up. You won't sit for more than a few moments as this can put pressure on the surgical site. In the days following surgery, you'll gradually sit for longer periods of time. Nurses and physical therapists will teach proper technique for getting in and out of bed, walking and sitting.

The Recovery Period

Once you're home after back surgery, sitting comfortably is all about technique. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons advises that "for at least the first 3 months, sit only in chairs that have arms. Do not sit on low chairs, low stools, or reclining chairs. Do not cross your legs at the knees. Keep your affected leg out in front of you. Get up and move around on a regular basis-at least once every hour."

Patrice Winter, PTMS, physical therapist and spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association adds, "sitting puts a lot of internal pressure on the discs of the spine and can cause pain and damage. In the post-surgery stage, it's usually more comfortable to walk, stand or lie down. When it's time to return to work, many patients feel best if they use a standing desk, slightly higher than a kitchen counter. Stand on one foot and place the other on a slightly higher footrest. This reduces pressure on the spine."

Returning to Normal

After recovery, sitting comfortably depends on how you sit, not what you sit on. Winter says, "Most of us collapse into a chair like a sack of potatoes. Sitting should be dynamic and active. You should feel your abdominal muscles contract. You want to perch and create a tripod of support for your back using your bottom and both feet. Sit at the front part of your seat with your buttocks slightly higher than your knees and both feet flat on the floor."

What about supportive devices? Lumbar support pillows, ergonomic chairs, knee chairs, and back braces may be fine for immediate recovery, but Winter believes the key to sitting comfortably after back surgery is using strong core muscles.  "If you use a pillow to support your low back but then collapse over it and create an arch, you're going to hurt your back. It's more important to sit properly than depend on equipment." 

The one piece of equipment Winter loves is the exercise ball because it forces people to sit correctly. "If you don't use proper body mechanics when sitting on a ball, you'll fall off."  Use the right size ball instead of an expensive office chair. It should be big enough that your knees are above your bottom. Your feet should provide a wide base of support and the ball should be pumped up and firm.

Once you've learned to "sit correctly", make sure you get up and move around every hour.


American Physical Therapy Association


Patrice Winter, PTMS, spokesperson APTA, faculty George Mason University.

American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons

Preparing for Low Back Surgery


Last Reviewed 5/2010