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Attention Sport Spectators: Bleachers can be a pain in the butt

An IU Health West Hospital Release An Orthopedics/Sports Medicine Release

IU Health West Physical Therapist speaks on preventing back pain while cheering on your favorite team

It has happened to many spectators cheering on their teams from the stands: bleacher butt. Or bleacher back. It’s the pain, and even numbness, you feel when you sit too long in the stadium. Why does sitting for so long become painful?

“There are a various reasons this is painful,” says Jeremy Enz, director of rehabilitation at Indiana University Health West. “Two of the main causes are that the benches are hard, so we become sore in our ‘sit bones’ (ischial tuberosities). And since bleachers have no back support, we tend to slouch, causing an unnatural curve to the spine. This isn’t detrimental for short periods of time, but most sporting events last for an hour or more.”

Improper posture caused by prolonged sitting in the bleachers eventually causes strain on the low back and core muscles, not to mention the discomfort of the hard surface. The solution is so simple, your mother has been encouraging it for years.

“Maintaining proper posture is very important. It is difficult, due to the lack of proper support,” says Tiffany Thacker, FNP, a registered nurse and coordinator for the Spine Program at IU Health. “Most people want to lean forward with their elbows on their knees. This creates more pressure on your lower back and will cause more discomfort later. The positioning of most bleachers places our hips lower than our knees, which exacerbates the pressure on the low back.  Try to maintain proper posture while sitting on bleachers.”

When you’re not at the game, be sure to maintain an exercise program that focuses on core strength, which will help with the aptly-named “bleacher back.” There are also items you can bring along to support your back while you watch the game.

“Invest in a stadium chair,” suggests Enz. “These are portable chairs with cushioned seats, seat backs, and some even have arm rests that are designed to lock onto bleachers.”

“You can also use a blanket to help make the experience less painful,” adds Thacker. “If it is at all possible, bring a folding chair with you and set it up on the sidelines. This will provide better body alignment.”

When you do start to feel the onset of pain, both experts suggest you get up and move around. Stretch, if possible.

“The best treatment for bleacher soreness is moving around,” advises Enz. “You could stretch the muscles that typically get tight, which are the hip flexors and hamstrings.  A red flag would be any radiating pain from your low back through the buttock and into your leg.”

At the next big game, keep your spine health in check by remembering to:

  • Maintain proper posture and sit up straight
  • Bring along a stadium chair, blanket or lawn chair to cushion the seat and support your back
  • Stand to cheer as often as you can. It encourages movement
  • When you feel pain, get up and move around or stretch your hamstrings and hip flexors

If you feel minor pain after the game, you may decide to take an over-the-counter pain reliever. If pain persists or radiates down from your back, visit the new IU Health Spine Center program web page for appointment information. 

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