For most people, avoiding one common activity in the workplace could eliminate a significant amount of back pain.
The Huffington Post calls sitting the new smoking. Sitting contorts our spines, compresses our lower disks and narrows blood flow to our lower extremities. If we’re working on a computer, sitting often causes us to hunch our shoulders, crane our necks and strain our eyes.
Research suggests that limiting our sitting to three hours daily could add two years to our lives.
So anyone with back pain who can avoid sitting would be doing themselves a favor.
For everyone else, here are 6 tips to ease the burden of work on your back.
- Get friendly with your computer.
Most people do not work in an ergonomically correct position, putting pressure on their backs, necks and shoulders. An ergonomically preferred position places your body no more than an arm’s length from the computer and mouse, aligning the head and neck just above the shoulders without leaning forward. Your hand should rest comfortably on the mouse with the elbow at the same height as the mouse pad. The monitor should be two or three inches above eye level.
- Demand support from your chair.
A chair must provide lumbar support or it will contribute to back pain. If there is no lumbar support, placing a pillow behind the lower spine will suffice. Chairs that can tilt back at least a little also take pressure off the base of the spine. For anyone already feeling pain, placing ice between the lumbar support and the back for 20 minutes can reduce inflammation. Use a heating pad can loosen up tense muscles for the same effect.
- Cradle your baby, not your phone.
If it had a lawyer, your body would sue you for neckslaughter every time you pin the phone between your shoulder and ear to free your hands. The intense strain from holding the phone that way for more than a couple of minutes can have a lasting effect on your posture and add to back and neck pain.
- Get up!
Occupational therapists recommend people who sit for long periods take a five-minute break every hour to get up and move around. This can counteract many of the negative effects of sitting by putting load back on the big muscles that were designed to bear it.
- Skip the fat work bag.
Any purse or briefcase that weighs more than 10 percent of your weight is imposing an awful strain on your back. Lighten the load or get a different bag. Once that’s done, make sure it has a long strap so it can be carried across the chest like a messenger bag. That reduces the diagonal load on your back.
- Lift with Your Legs.
Not everyone works in an office. For those who do physical labor, back strain comes in the form of lifting heavy objects incorrectly. Squatting and lifting with the legs, rather than the back, provides the most stable and strongest platform for lifting, and reduces the chances of causing back strain. In addition, heavy objects should be lifted as close to the body as possible because the effective weight multiplies as it moves away from the body.
Whatever you do at work, remember that diet, stretching and exercise are the first steps to keeping a back healthy.