Sitting versus standing: does the intradiscal pressure cause disc degeneration or low back pain?

J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2008 Aug;18(4):550-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jelekin.2006.10.011. Epub 2007 Mar 7.


Studies of lumbar intradiscal pressure (IDP) in standing and upright sitting have mostly reported higher pressures in sitting. It was assumed clinically that flexion of the lumbar spine in sitting relative to standing, caused higher IDP, disc degeneration or rupture, and low back pain. IDP indicates axial compressive load upon a non-degenerate disc, but provides little or no indication of shear, axial rotation or bending. This review is presented in two main parts. First, in vivo IDP data in standing and upright sitting for non-degenerate discs are comprehensively reviewed. As methodology, results and interpretations varied between IDP studies, in vivo studies measuring spinal shrinkage and spinal internal-fixator loads to infer axial compressive load to the discs are also reviewed. When data are considered together, it is clear that IDP is often similar in standing and sitting. Secondly, clinical assumptions related to IDP in sitting are considered in light of basic and epidemiologic studies. Current studies indicate that IDP in sitting is unlikely to pose a threat to non-degenerate discs, and sitting is no worse than standing for disc degeneration or low back pain incidence. If sitting is a greater threat for development of low back pain than standing, the mechanism is unlikely to be raised IDP.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / physiology*
  • Low Back Pain / etiology*
  • Posture / physiology*
  • Pressure
  • Spinal Diseases / etiology*