Hello, everyone! This is Dr. Bob Salamon with Lowcountry Chiropractic. As always, I hope you’re doing well and staying healthy! On my last blog, we discussed fibromyalgia, its symptoms, and potential treatments, including how chiropractic care can help. Today, we’ll be talking about how office workers can minimize back pain at work. Working at a desk for long periods of time is not uncommon these days, especially since many have made the transition to working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent Gallup poll found that 45% of full-time employees were working partly or fully remotely in the U.S. in 2021. This likely means that a large percentage of the population is sitting for long periods. If you sit at a desk or at a computer for most of the day, these helpful tips can help minimize pain and discomfort. Let’s get started!
It is widely known that sitting for prolonged periods of time can cause back pain, particularly in the lower back. This can be due to a few factors. First, sitting is a “static” posture: this means that it lacks in action or change. This posture places stress on the back, shoulders, arms, and legs. Consequently, this can put pressure on the back muscles and spinal discs. Additionally, after sitting in a chair for too long, most people have a tendency to slouch, which can overstretch the spinal ligaments and strain the discs and surrounding structures of the spine. Bad posture can cause lower back pain, or make existing pain worse. This pain can be felt in the lower or upper back as well as the neck, from leaning forward to look at a computer screen or other device.
Pain caused by long periods of sitting or bad posture can contribute to a person’s efficiency in their working environment, which is known as ergonomics. That being said, one of the key elements to workplace ergonomics is the office chair. It is important to find a chair that is not only comfortable but promotes good posture. Office chairs should be adjustable and customizable for each individual. A chair with adjustable seat height can be altered depending on the type of work being done, and depending on the person’s proportions. Seat width and depth is also important, in order to support the user comfortably. You should be able to comfortably rest your back against the backrest of the chair and support the natural curve of the spine. This is known as lumbar support. The lumbar spine has an inward curve and lack of support for this can lead to slouching. It is also important for an office chair to swivel, or easily rotate, so that the user can reach different areas of their desk without straining. If you feel that your chair is just not doing the job, consider investing in a new one– Your spine will thank you.
There are also a few important guidelines to follow to ensure the most comfortable position for your back. These include:
Even after you’ve checked all of the above guidelines off your list, there are still ways you can minimize back pain. A simple thing you can do is get up and stretch for a minute or two every half hour. If you need to, set an alarm or reminder on your phone to stretch. You can also take a short walk, perhaps across the office, or around your desk. Go to a doorway and place your hands on either side of the frame to stretch your shoulders. If your job involves talking on the phone a lot, consider using your speaker, headphones or earbuds, or getting a headset. Pinning your phone between your neck and shoulder while working can lead to stress on the back.
Another simple exercise is to just breathe! Believe it or not, taking the time to breathe slowly in and out relaxes the muscles in your mid and lower back. By focusing on inhaling and exhaling, you may find that you unclench your jaw or release tension in other areas of the body. Breathing exercises also engage your core muscles. Meditation and yoga can also be helpful in relaxing the body overall, which can minimize back pain and discomfort.
When you finish a long work day, the first thing you may feel like doing is sitting on the couch. However, taking a walk might be a better option– It provides your spine with a different position. Moving and stretching can keep your joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons loose, which will help keep you comfortable. It can also be helpful to exercise your core two or three times a week. Your core includes your abdominal, back, and pelvis muscles. There are plenty of core exercises to try, such as a sit-up or a plank. Find one that works best for you and try to incorporate it into your routine. Regular physical activity can make the back stronger.
Another option to consider is a standing desk, which allows you to work while standing up. There are a variety of types, including “static” or “fixed” standing desks, which have a standard height, or adjustable standing desks, which allow you to adjust the height according to your needs. Standing desks have increased in popularity over the years as it was discovered that sitting for prolonged periods of time was not good for the body. The “sit-stand workstation” has also increased in popularity. This involves both sitting and standing up while working, and alternating between the two throughout the day, depending on your needs. A Stanford University study found that 78% of workers who utilize a sit-stand workstation were less likely to experience back pain.
If you are experiencing back pain, you can also consider heat therapy. This can be through a heating pad, hot water bottle, or even a hot bath or shower. Most forms of lower back pain involve muscle spasms, which can be soothed with heat. Heat can increase blood flow to the muscles and improve circulation, which can relieve tightness in the back and reduce pain. Applying heat to areas such as the lower back can also help stretch the soft tissues around the spine. This, in turn, can increase range of motion as well as decrease stiffness. It is highly recommended to use cold therapy (gel bag, ice) after heat therapy to reduce the inflammation that heat therapy may cause. Massages and chiropractic care are also options for those suffering from lower back pain. Sometimes, a simple chiropractic adjustment, or spinal manipulation, can be the key to relieving back pain by removing interferences called vertebral subluxations, or pressure on the nerves.
As you can see, working an office job or working from home can take a toll on your back. When sitting for prolonged periods of time, it is important to find the right office chair, as well as get adequate physical exercise. Stretching, heat therapy, cold therapy, and chiropractic care are all options to treat back pain. If you are looking for a simple way to treat lower back pain, consider reaching out to Lowcountry Chiropractic. Send us an email or give us a call and we’ll assess the situation and develop a long-term treatment plan to address your needs. We want to help you live a pain-free life– It’s what you deserve. As always, this is Dr. Bob and I have your back covered!
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