Having back pain at work is fairly common. But there are ways to adjust your work space and how you work to help alleviate the problem.
People whose jobs involve a lot of physical activity are perceived to be at great risk for having back problems at work. But the pressure on your lower back is actually greater when sitting than when standing.
There are steps you can take, though, to cut your risk of back injury if you sit for long periods at a desk or in a car.
Start with a good chair
A good chair is the backbone of a proper workstation. Chairs that force you to work in awkward positions can bring fatigue, poor circulation, swelling, numbness and pain. Choose one that is stable, tilts, adjusts easily for height and has a backrest that supports the curve of your lower back.
A backrest should have adjustable lumbar support for your lower back. If your chair has no lumbar support, use a rolled up towel or a back support cushion.
Your chair’s armrests also aid support. If they are too low they could cause you to lean and rest on one arm. Too high and they’ll raise your shoulders. Both positions can cause muscle tension and fatigue.
Poorly designed workstations may cause you to hunch over, slouch, strain or twist. If a desk isn’t the right height for your chair, it can force you to reach awkwardly and contribute to back and neck pain.
The phone on your desk should be positioned closely so you don’t have to strain to reach it or aren’t forced to lean on one elbow during conversations. A headset may help avoid neck and back pain caused by cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder.
Make sure your keyboard is positioned so your fingers, hands, wrists and forearms are straight and parallel to the floor.
Above all, take frequent breaks. The body is not designed to sit for long periods. Change your position and stand up or stretch if you start to feel tired.
Driving for a living?
People whose occupation involves driving a lot also face back injury risks from sitting for long periods and the constant (road) vibration.
When you sit, discs in the spine are forced to absorb more vibration. The ligaments in your back will also stretch and loosen. The upper back and neck muscles must work continuously to hold your head in position, especially when there is a lot of vibration. And that ongoing muscle activity can lead to strain.
To avoid back problems caused by long driving periods:
- Keep the back of your seat tilted slightly back (about 110 degrees from your legs). This can help ease disc pressure and relax muscles.
- Keep your vehicle’s suspension system in good order to better absorb vibration. Extra seat padding may help disperse some vibration.
- Don’t sit too close to the steering wheel, but make sure your elbows are slightly bent comfortably.
- Make sure you can press pedals without moving your lower back forward or off the seat back.
- Use lumbar support. A rolled-up towel behind your lower back may help.
- Try to tilt your seat a notch or two back and forth every 20 to 30 minutes to alter the impact of vibration on your body.
- Take regular rest/stretch breaks. About five minutes per hour can help.
- Try to shift driving positions regularly when possible.
If you do end up with a backache, heat and over-the-counter pain relievers may help. But check with your doctor first if you have any medical problems, take any other medication or have any allergies. If your back pain is severe, or if it does not get better, see your doctor as well.
Source: www.myoptumhealth.com; Howard Seidman; September 29, 2009