9 Easy Ways to Relieve Back Pain at Work
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 experiences back pain. Back pain that lasts more than three months is considered chronic, a type of pain which neuroscientists say impairs more than your physical body.
Chronic pain actually alters brain function, impairing attention, short-term memory, judgement, and social skills. Additionally, Harvard Medical Center reports that chronic pain contributes to mood disorders, including depression and anxiety, sleeping difficulties and coping skills, which can damage relationships with friends, family, and significant others.
People who work in offices are more likely to suffer chronic back pain than people who have physically demanding jobs.—Dr. Garima Anandani
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
- Holding your telephone between your ear and your shoulder
- Lack of movement during the work day
Here are some 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 issues 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 protect your back while you work.
1.) 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.
2.) Adjust the height of your chair so you can keep your feet flat on the floor and your knees at a 90-degree angle. You can also rest your feet on a prop, like a footrest or even a phone book, for extra support.
3.) Remove or lower the armrests so your arms are at a 90-degree angle. This will encourage you to hold your shoulders low, which your upper back will appreciate.
4.) Keep your monitor about an arms length away and at or slightly below eye level. This will encourage you to sit back, instead of leaning forward and straining your neck. If you find yourself squinting at your monitor, 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 strain to their neck and shoulders. Try the following alternatives to avoid tucking your phone during your conversations.
1.) Use a headset or speakerphone if your conversation lasts more than five minutes or you need to take notes during the call.
2.) 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. In blue zones regions, people were nudged into moving every 20 minutes throughout the day. Sitting (or even standing) in one position for an eight-hour workday can wreak havoc on your body.
1.) Take short breaks, or 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.
2.) Researchers suggest at least half your hours at work should be spent standing up. If you have a sit-stand workstation, alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day.
3.) 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.
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 has some great resources on his website, including clocks reminding you when to take micro breaks at work.