Many people do not practice proper posture and ergonomics in the office or at home, which can lead to back pain and repetitive stress injuries. If you suffer from back pain, there are several things you can do to make yourself comfortable while preventing and treating common causes of back pain.
Back Pain at Work?
Poor posture is one of the most common causes of back pain. Repetitive tasks and movements such as typing, filing and holding the phone with your shoulder can place your body in awkward positions that can contribute to muscle strain and pain.
Mental stresses such as an overwhelming workload, unhappy customers and an over-controlling boss can lead to tight muscles and physical pain as well.
Forward Head Position
Forward head position is when you roll your head and shoulders forward. This is a very common problem when you do a lot of typing, paperwork and reading which requires your head to be in a flexed position looking down. This is one of the most serious posture problems as it blocks a lot of the blood flow to your head and is very bad for the joints, nerves, discs and muscles.
Action: Place your keyboard and mouse within easy reach so that you do not have to hunch forward to work on the computer. Make sure your wrists have proper support so that they rest in a neutral position when typing or using the mouse.
Crossed Legged Positions
One of the most common postural problems is not keeping both feet flat on the floor. Often workers cross their legs over or tuck one leg under while they are sitting. This position places significant strain on the hips and lower back joints and muscles.
Your lower back is the foundation of the rest of your spine. If your low back is out of its normal position, it is likely that other areas are also strained, which tends to worsen back pain.
Action: It is extremely important to use a comfortable, ergonomic chair when sitting at a desk for long periods of time. Make sure your chair has proper lower back, or lumbar support. If not, you can place a small pillow between your lower back and the chair. Adjust the height of your chair so that your feet are flat on the floor and your knees are in line with your hips. If you sit on a high chair where your feet cannot touch the ground it is likely that you will hunch your back in order to stay balanced.
Equipment in Line
The workplace’s furniture and equipment are common causes of injuries and pain. Try keeping the mouse, keyboard and monitor all in line. Abnormal position, tension and pain will result from constantly looking off to one side if your equipment is not in alignment.
Action: If you are looking down at your monitor you can place a small box or even books under your computer monitor. This will raise the monitor and reduce the muscular strain in your neck and shoulders. The monitor should be level with your eyes.
Eliminating Pain at Work
Several recommendations have already been made but you can take additional steps to reduce the common causes of pain. The following stretches and exercises are recommended to do at work and at home to help reduce your risk.
Get Up and Move
It is recommended to take frequent breaks when you must sit at a desk for extended periods of time. Maintaining the same position for more than an hour or two at a time strains your back muscles and spine. Stand up and walk around for a few minutes every hour, if possible.
Stretch it out
Stretching is an excellent way to keep your spine flexible and relieve back pain. The following are a few examples of stretches that will reduce your risk. Each position should be held for a minimum of 10-15 seconds and repeated as needed.
- Stand up straight and place your hands on your hips while gently leaning back and side-to-side so that you get movement in your lower back.
- Stretch your upper chest and shoulders by extending your arms behind your back and grasping both hands together. Keep your elbows straight and raise arms. This will help stretch out the muscles that get tight from forward head position.
- Tilt your head side to side, rotate left and right and bringing your ear towards your shoulder can help stretch the muscles in your neck.
Single Leg Extension. This exercise trains your core muscles to work together to stabilize your pelvis and lower back.
How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Slowly pull one knee toward your chest while keeping your low back flat on the floor and extend your other leg straight at about a 45-degree angle. Start with 5-10 extensions on each side.
The New Crunch. Traditional crunches have been found to place significant stress on your lower back. The new crunch reduces this stress and strengthens the core muscles most commonly associated with poor posture.
How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Keep your lower back flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head but do not pull on your neck. Curl your shoulders up off the floor and hold, slowly lower back down. Repeat until you’re fatigued.
Back Extension. It is common for people to try to strengthen their abdominal muscles while forgetting about their back muscles.
How to: Lie on your stomach with palms flat on the floor with your elbows bent. Have your legs straight behind you in a straight line. Slowly raise your head and chest off the floor by only using your back muscles. Do not push down into your arms to press up. Keep your hip bones flat on the floor. Repeat until fatigued.
Plank Pose. This exercise is one of the most important stabilizing exercises. It works your entire spine and incorporates the musculature for good posture.
How to: Start on your hands and knees with your palms directly under your shoulders. Extend both legs straight and go up onto your toes. The position is similar to the top of a push-up. Tighten your abdominal muscles, keep your back straight and gaze down at the floor. Hold the plank until you're fatigued.
By applying these stretches and exercises one can improve their posture and reduce the damaging effects of workplace positions. Take a proactive approach to workplace safety to prevent conditions that so many people suffer from.
Dr. Cory Couillard is an international healthcare speaker and columnist for numerous newspapers, magazines, websites and publications throughout the world. He works in collaboration with the World Health Organization's goals of disease prevention and global healthcare education. Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.
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