Back pain is the leading cause of absence from work. What starts as a minor ache can quickly flare into debilitating pain. While the pain may seem mysterious—as if it appeared out of nowhere—it’s actually no mystery at all. Our small daily habits contribute to what eventually becomes a big problem.
Back pain shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. A glance around any workplace, coffee shop, or freeway will reveal the main culprit—the hunch. We’re hunched over computers, books, and steering wheels and our backs are bearing the brunt of it.
If you’re parked at a desk all day, you can make a few simple changes to keep back pain at bay:
Posture: Sit up straight. It sounds simple, but it’s not. As we stare at a computer screen, we tend to move our head toward the screen, straining our neck. Instead, focus on keeping your head directly above your neck and shoulders. Each time you catch yourself straining your neck forward, readjust. With time, you’ll establish a new pattern.
Chair: Choose a quality chair—after all, you’re going to spend most of your day sitting in it. Look for a chair that has lumbar support for your lower back and tilt the back of the chair so it is very slightly reclined away from your computer and desk.
Position: There is a lot of controversy over the value of ergonomically designed office equipment. While the debate continues, one thing is certain—the way we position our office equipment affects our movement patterns. Set yourself up for success by positioning your chair, monitor, keyboard, and mouse to support you.
- Computer Monitor: Your computer monitor should be two to three inches above eye level for optimal viewing and minimal strain.
- Chair: Your chair should be positioned so that your torso is only an arm’s length away from your monitor.
- Mouse: Place your mouse right next to your keyboard in order to avoid overreaching or twisting.
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Legs and Feet: You may think your legs have little involvement when you’re seated in a chair, but they do matter. Avoid sitting cross-legged because it makes it difficult to keep the spine straight. (Furthermore, crossing your legs puts you at risk for overstretching the muscles around the pelvis.) Instead, sit with your feet planted flat, shoulder-width apart and your knees at 90 degrees, directly above your ankles. The best way to do this may be to place a small stool beneath your feet. Experiment to find the best position that allows you to keep your spine comfortably upright.
Shoulders: Roll your shoulders back and down and square them over your hips. Think of “dropping your shoulders into your back pockets.” Relax.
Headset: Invest in a headset or use the speakerphone. Cradling the phone between your shoulder and your ear is a recipe for neck pain and back pain, not to mention a headache.
Brain Breaks: Stand up at least once an hour and take a walk to the bathroom or drinking fountain. This will reduce pressure on your spine and increase circulation. Furthermore, it will give your brain a much-needed break, which in turn will reduce your likelihood to slouch and strain.
Stop Back Pain Before it Starts
Prevention is the key to stopping back pain. Make deliberate choices each day to support your spine and you’re less likely to find yourself battling this common ailment.