What Causes Back Pain?
Back pain is the second most common cause of missing work (only after the common cold) and contributes to about 93 million lost workdays and $5 billion in health care costs every year! An astounding eight out of ten people will have back pain at some point in their lives and one in four Americans currently experience back pain. Back pain that lasts more than three months is considered chronic, a type of pain Harvard, Stanford and McGill neuroscientists, who study brain function, say impairs more than your physical body.
Chronic pain actually alters brain function! This leads to surprising effects, such as impaired attention, short-term memory, judgement and social skills! Additionally, Harvard Medical Center reports that chronic pain contributes to mood disorders, including depression and anxiety. Other problems resulting from chronic pain include sleeping difficulties, loss of coping skills, and damaged relationships with friends, family and significant others.
Chronic pain is becoming more and more common in people with office jobs. In fact, people who work in offices are specifically more likely to suffer from chronic back pain than people who have a physically demanding job! How your body is positioned throughout the day is a major contributor to back and neck pain. The three most common causes of back pain are:
- Slouching forward in your chair
2. Holding your telephone between your ear and your shoulder
3. Lack of movement during the work day
Here are a variety of tips anyone can use to optimize their workstation to reduce back pain!
Customize Your Chair and Desk!
Dr. Scott Donkin, founder of Occupational Health and Wellness Solutions consults workplaces on safety, ergonomic and health issue and states that the act of leaning forward in your chair crushes the disks in your lower back and puts strain on your neck and shoulders. San Francisco State University’s Dr. Erik Peper recommends these tips to help yourself naturally lean back as you work.
- Support the natural curve of your spine! Office chairs should have lumbar support, a natural forward curve at belly button level. You can also put a pillow or rolled up towel behind your back to achieve this effect.
- Adjust the height of your chair so you can keep your feet flat on the floor and your knees at 90-degree angles. You can also rest your feet on a prop, like a footrest or even a phone book, for extra support. Crossing your legs tightly reduces circulation in your legs and causes varicose veins, which look dark blue on your skin!
- Remove or lower the armrests so your arms are at 90-degree angles. This will encourage you to hold your shoulders low, which will help your upper back!
- Keep your monitor about an arms length away and at or slightly below eye level. This will encourage you to sit back, instead of lean forward and reduces neck strain. If you find yourself squinting at your monitor, which can also cause you to lean forward in your chair, adjust the lighting to reduce strain on the eyes.
Optimize Your Phone Calls
Many people tuck their phone between their head and shoulder to free up their hands while talking, causing intense strain on their neck and shoulders. Try the following alternatives to avoid tucking your phone during your conversations.
- Use a headset or speakerphone if your conversation lasts more than 5 minutes or you need to take notes during the call.
- Hold the phone in your hand and switch between your right and left sides throughout the conversation.
Get Up and Move!
People are made to move! Sitting (or even standing) in one position for an 8 hour workday can wreak havoc on your body!
- Take short breaks, called micro breaks, once every hour to use the restroom, get a glass of water, visit the copy machine or just stretch. Sitting for long periods of time can weaken the muscles in your back. Stretching for just 60 seconds is enough to offset these negative effects of sitting.
- Researchers suggest at least half of your working hours should be spent standing up. If you have a sit-stand workstation, alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day.
- Strengthening your core muscles with exercise, such as yoga, pilates or sit-ups works your stomach as well your back, which naturally improves your posture and reduces pain. You can enroll in a class to learn these techniques, or develop a routine to do at home.
To learn more about sit-stand workstation, check out Ergotron’s website.
For more resources on creating a healthy workstation (including links to programs reminding you to take micro breaks), check out OSHAs recommendations on comfortable sitting at work!
Dr. Peper also has some great resources on his website, including clocks reminding you when to take micro breaks at work.
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