Back pain – nobody wants it, but most of us have it. And the worst part about it? When someone asks how you hurt your back, the answer is totally devoid of any glamour. Much as you’d love to suggest you took the moguls a little too fast skiing the black run home, or you slipped a disc setting the spinnaker during the yacht race, ten-to-one the real answer involves the super-boring phrase: “at the office”.
In Australia alone, the most commonly reported workplace injury is lower back pain, a condition which costs healthcare providers an estimated $4.8 billion annually to treat. In the office environment, the primary cause of back, shoulder and neck injury is the act of sitting hunched over a computer. While outright avoiding the computer is impossible, there are a few things you can do to help your back survive the day.
Start by setting up your workstation with ergonomics in mind. Splash out and buy yourself an office chair which is actually fitted to your body, so that the natural curve of your spine is supported. Adjust the height so that your feet are flat on the floor and your knees remain at a 90 degree angle, and make sure the armrests are not too high. Leaning forward in your chair is an action which puts extra pressure on the discs in your lower back, so position your computer monitor about an arm’s length away, at eye level or slightly below.
The discs in your lower spine take three times more pressure when you sit than when you stand, so try to break up long stretches of sitting by standing up and moving around. You may benefit from trialling a sit-stand workstation in your office space, or a work platform with adjustable height, to encourage movement and help you alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day. Research has found that stretching your back for literally a minute can offset the negative effects of sitting, so schedule in micro-breaks once every hour to stretch or move around the office.
Pay extra attention to your posture when working at the computer. Believe it or not, tucking your phone between your head and shoulders to talk and type is a big cause of shoulder strain, so use hands-free or headsets where appropriate. If you are someone who struggles with hunching your shoulders, use a fit ball or foam roller during the day to mobilise your back in the opposite direction. Be proactive outside the office: regular participation in activities like yoga or pilates has shown to be beneficial in strengthening and promoting flexibility in the lower back.
As with all things, prevention is better than cure. The best way to stop office pain before it begins is by strengthening your back and improving your posture. Talk to one of our experienced physios here at a2z Health Group on 9798 4081 about what you can do to work on your core and support your spine. By letting our team of experts help you through the working day, you’ll be ready for all the black runs and yacht races the weekend has to offer!