Day in and day out, we wreak havoc on our backs, mostly with improper posture, strenuous activity, and repetitive movements. In the office setting where most of us spend the largest part of our waking lives, the movements we make – or rather not make – may end up causing crippling pain at some point in our lives. But a few minor changes in the way we work – putting an end to some activities and implementing others – may help relieve the large amounts of pressure to the spinal discs and muscles.
Things to STOP Doing Right Now
Stressing Too Much. Stress is what you feel when life’s demands are simply too much to handle. If you’re overworked, have certain health concerns, or are going through a rough patch with your life partner, the stress your situation causes may be the source of your back pain. People experience and manifest stress in various ways, and while some are able to limit its impact to the mind, other people “hold” stress in their bodies. The muscle tension it creates and the constant contracting over a prolonged period can cause headaches, muscle spasms, and back pain – and even make people more exposed to injury and chronic pain.
The worst part is the vicious circle soon created. As stress causes behaviors that lead to back pain, the sufferer becomes increasingly timid and anxious in many functions of daily life and starts limiting his activities, which in turn increases physical weakening and eventually leads to more back pain.
Overusing Gadgets. Have you ever felt a sharp pain in your neck after gazing down at your tablet for a long time? Or maybe the tendons running you through your elbow to your wrist were sore after curling up with your iPad for a whole afternoon? Smartphones, tablets, and laptops do make our lives easier, but they are also setting the stage for an increasingly large array of new ailments, caused either by improper use or overuse of such gadgets. Since they’re not going away anytime soon, we’ll probably be hearing more about the “text neck,” the “Blackberry thumb,” or the “iPad elbow.”
Not Wearing a Headset. A habit of busy office workers everywhere is to cradle the phone between their ear and shoulder in order to free up their hands for the duration – usually lengthy- of the call. Aside from the fact that’s uncomfortable and a bit challenging, holding the phone in this manner (even for short periods) places great stress on the muscles of the neck, shoulders, and the back. Discomfort, pain, and injury are some of the most common results, but there are also unpredictable consequences of such prolonged strain, including stroke.
Sleeping the Wrong Way. Sleeping in an unnatural position or on a worn-out mattress can be the cause of your throbbing back pain. In the past, most sufferers were advised to sleep on firm mattresses in order to wake up more rested, but there is no proof that some mattresses are better than others. Some people find it helpful to add a small pillow whenever they go to sleep and place it under the knees, in case of back sleepers, and between the knees, in case of side sleepers, to maintain their spine in a neutral position. Stomach sleeping is generally considered a bad position for people with developing back pain.
Things to START Doing Right Now
Following Ergonomic Rules. Although it’s hard to think about your posture when you’re struggling to meet a major deadline, the truth is sitting puts 40 percent more pressure on spine than standing straight. Specifically, the act of hunching forward in your chair puts great pressure on the spinal discs and strains your neck and shoulder muscles. To help yourself sit in a natural and healthy position, you should set up a fully ergonomic workstation as follows:
- Your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle while your hands are resting on the work surface
- There should be at least one finger width between your thigh and the leading edge of the chair; if it’s too tight, add a footrest
- The lumbar support should allow your lower back to arch slightly in its natural position so that you don’t slouch or slump forward in your chair by the end of the day.
- Your monitor should be positioned at or just below eye level, at a distance of at least 20 inches to avoid eye strain
Moving Around the Office. Although you cannot undo the negative the toll sitting has on your body, getting up and moving as much as you can significantly relieves and prevents chronic back pain. Take at least one short break per hour, stretch for at least 60 seconds, and get whatever excuse you need – get water, make copies at the printer, talk to your colleagues – to get up and walk around the office as often as possible.
Improving Flexibility. The more tensed and tight you muscles are the more chances you have to experience pain. If your goal is to avoid back pain, you need to address tension in the hamstring, hip flexor, and buttocks muscles, each of which contribute to lower back pain when tight. Light stretching exercises performed for all these muscle groups at least two times a week will be helpful in reducing this stressful sensation.
Working with a Specialist. Many of these simple methods can help alleviate and prevent back pain in many sufferers, but they are not failproof methods and may not address the symptoms equally in everyone. Some patients may need more core strengthening, while others can benefit more from stretching and increased flexibility. A chiropractor who specializes in low back care can develop an individualized exercise plan to put patients on the path for rapid and full recovery.
Keep yourself from developing chronic low and back pain by following the simple steps above. Although there are no guarantees that making such changes to your daily routine will protect you from future pain episodes, treating your back better from here on out will certainly reduce the frequency and intensity of your pain.
About the Author
Dr. Marc Browner is the Founder of iChiropractic and Wellness in Naples, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.