Back Pain and the Desk Worker
Did you know those office workers have the highest reported rate of low back pain of any profession, even more than laborers? Back pain continues to not only one of the most common complaints but also one of the COSTLIEST issues for employers. As we have discussed before the cost of missed work time and the effect of pain on productivity is estimated to have an economic impact in the TRILLIONS of dollars.
Okay now that you’re convinced that back pain is a big deal let’s discuss why it’s so common amongst desk workers. The two main reasons for the high incidence rate amongst office workers is the spinal forces associated with the sitting position and the effect of reduced healthy movement that is associated with a more active job type.
Why office workers have the highest incidence of back pain
For most, sitting seems to be more of a resting position than a stressor but force studies show that sitting actually produces high loads through the spine. Here are the actual numbers when it comes to pressure through the spine and position:
Lying flat on back: 25 kg of intradiscal pressure
Standing upright: 100 kg of intradiscal pressure
Sitting upright: 140 kg of intradiscal pressure
Sitting slouched: 185 kg of intradiscal pressure
Rising from sitting with a purse or briefcase: 275 kg of intradiscal pressure
As you can see sitting is actually quite stressful on the disc in your low back, however, the spine is inherently robust and not fragile. It can often overcome and remain resilient however it’s the TIME spent sitting at work combined with even more repetition of bending in our outside of the office life that can eventually lead to overload.
What you can do to prevent back pain
If we view low back pain in the office worker as overuse of sitting and bending it gives us some direction. So here are steps you can take to prevent back pain if you are an office worker:
1. Sit/stand work station
2. Microbreaks/Bruggers relief position
3. Short walks
4. Don’t add more sitting time at home
5. McKenzie position multiple times per day
6. Chiropractic maintenance care
Let’s break these down in more detail.
- Sit/stand workstation- Installing a sit/stand desk in your office can go a long way towards preventing back pain. In the beginning, try to start slow with short periods of standing until you build more tolerance towards standing. To start with try standing 20 minutes out of every hour and slowly build to 30 or 40 minutes of standing per hour of work.
- If you don’t have a sit/stand desk it’s okay. Start with a quick micro-break, called Bruggers’ relief position, every 30 minutes. This means every thirty minutes stand up and briefly stretch your entire body backward, think opposite of sitting.
3. Short walks- Build in short walks to your day. Parka little farther from your office to extend your walking distance. Walk to lunch. Walk during break time. Go for short walks when arriving home.
- Don’t add more sitting time when at home. At home rather than sitting on the couch or recliner during your downtime try lying on the floor flat on your back with your legs up to watch TV.
- McKenzie position– Multiple times per day spend 5-10 minutes lying in the McKenzie position. This is lying on your stomach and use your forearms underneath you to prop your upper body up. Picture the spine in a gentle, backward bent position (the opposite of sitting or bending forward). Note: this is NOT a plank, you should be relaxed and comfortable in this position.
- Chiropractic maintenance care– Lastly, evidence shows that monthly Chiropractic visits are an effective strategy to reduce the likelihood of recurrence of low back pain. Treat yourself and stay at the top of your game by not allowing pain to interfere with your productivity.
There you have it, a complete plan to reduce or prevent your low back pain. If you have any questions feel free to reach out to Dr. Davis directly at [email protected]
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