Back pain is one of the most common health complaints in the United States. In fact, as much as 80% of the adult population report experiencing at least some degree of back pain, and it is the second most common reason for visits to doctors’ offices[i]. But fear not – there are simpler and more cost-effective ways of alleviating your back pain than expensive chiropractors and medication. You can save that sick leave for a rainy day and use these methods while you’re working.
1.) Get Your Back on Track with Good Posture
The back pain you’re experiencing may have started after overexerting yourself one day; maybe you hit the gym a little too hard or picked up a heavy object. The strain you feel, however, could have been accumulating over a long period of time. Mary Ann Wilmarth, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Chief of Physical Therapy at Harvard University, had this to say on the topic: “Little things add up. You can increase the pressure on your back by 50% simply by leaning over the sink incorrectly to brush your teeth. Keeping the right amount of curvature in the back takes pressure off the nerves and will reduce back pain.”[ii] The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has compiled a fantastic list of posture tips that you can easily follow while at work.
2.) Improve Your Range of Motion with This Stretch
The best stretching position for the relief of back pain is called the “90-90 position.” This stretch entails lying on the floor, flat on your back, with your legs raised in the air and propped up on an office chair so that your hips are at a 90-degree angle. Rest the back of your upper thighs against the chair so that your thighs are parallel to the legs of the chair. Bend your knees at a 90-degree angle so that the backs of your calves rest against the seat of the chair. You are now in the 90-90 position because your hips and knees are both at 90 degree angles. Do not use any muscles to stay in this position. Let your knees come apart and your arms rest comfortably at your sides. Keep your head flat on the floor and stay in this position for at least fifteen minutes. Repeat this stretch three times per day. This position helps to break muscle spasms and evens out the forces in the small joints of the spine.[iii]
3.) Alternate between Sitting and Standing Throughout Your Workday
The majority of Americans spend, on average, 13 hours every day firmly attached to a chair.[iv] Given this information, it should come as no surprise that so many of these individuals experience back pain. Sitting in the same position for hours can cause 30% more spinal pressure when compared to standing or walking.[v] You can also put yourself at a greater risk for a herniated or slipped disk in your spine.[vi] An easy way to avoid the risks caused by over-sitting is to frequently alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day. The use of a standing desk is a convenient way to do just that. Many standing desk models convert from a sitting position to a standing position in just seconds and with no effort. Many office workers have experienced relief from back pain following their adoption of a standing desk.[vii]
Back pain can be frustrating, but fortunately it doesn’t have to be permanent. Simple lifestyle changes such as changing your posture, stretching, and adopting a sit/stand workstation can provide relief.
[i] University of Maryland Medical Center (2012). Low Back Pain. Web. https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/low-back-pain
[ii] Wilmarth, Mary Ann, DPT and Chief of Physical Therapy at Harvard University. Web. http://www.webmd.com/back-pain/america-asks-13/12-back-pain-tips
[iii] Time Magazine (2011). Top 10 Tips for Treating Back Pain. Web. http://healthland.time.com/2011/04/25/10-tips-for-treating-back-pain/photo/stretchingonmat/
[iv] Levine, Dr. James (2014). Killer Chairs: How Desk Jobs Ruin Your Health. Scientific American. Web. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/killer-chairs-how-desk-jobs-ruin-your-health/
[v] Sinett, Todd (2012). Surprising Causes of Back Pain. Health.com. Web. http://www.health.com/health/article/0,,20471670,00.html
[vi] Berkowitz, Bonnie et al. (2014). The Health Hazards of Sitting. Web. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/apps/g/page/national/the-health-hazards-of-sitting/750/
[vii] Karakolis, Thomas et al. (2013). The impact of sit – stand office workstations on worker discomfort and productivity: A review. Applied Ergonomics 45 (2014) 799-806. http://www.udel.edu/PT/PT%20Clinical%20Services/journalclub/sojc/14-15/january/Sit%20stand%20office%20workstations.pdf