“Warning: this job involves back-breaking work.”
For most people, the typical white-collar office worker is the last professional class that would come to mind when thinking about work that hurts the spine. However, we are coming to realise that nothing could be further from the truth.
Studies have noted that more of us have a sedentary lifestyle than ever before, and that lower back pain (LBP) has also increased among office workers. On top of this, greater stress at the job is also connected to lower back issues.
What this means is that eight or more hours at a typical desk job could exacerbate postural issues and weaken the spine, and chronic bad posture can lead to spinal injury. In fact, research conducted in the UK suggested that back pain is one of the leading reasons for absence from work.
The warning signs may be quite subtle and often overlooked until it’s too late. However, the right precautions could keep you healthier in the long run and reduce injury to the spine. Here are our tips to help you in this direction.
Customise your workstation
An interesting WSJ video with ergonomics expert Jon Cinkay explains the reason why most people who have a desk job suffer so much from back pain – the desk is typically built for the average person, not you. In other words, it is not custom-built for you. That’s why it’s recommended that you customise your desk and chair height, and position your monitor, keyboard, mouse and phone to ensure you don’t strain your neck when using them or when reaching out for any of your desk accessories.
Move often and work out often
Jon Cinkay also recommends that desk workers get up from their seats and move about at least once every hour. We also recommend regular low-intensity exercise such as walking and swimming to strengthen your core muscles and make your spine more flexible. Couple this with gentle stretching and strength training under supervision for more health benefits.
Use devices that help improve posture, with guidance
There is a trend towards the indiscriminate use of back braces, lumbar pillows, and posture correctors, and it is an especially attractive bandwagon to join when you see many products on your shopping app promising near-instant results. However, medical professionals might ask you to be wary of these products and not use them without consulting your doctor. On the other hand, you wouldn’t need to check with your doctor before trying devices like monitor arms, foot stools, or seat cushions to help you achieve a healthy posture at your desk, kitchen counter, or car. All the same, consult a medical professional or chiropractor before buying a posture aid to get the best results.
Pay attention to the way you sleep
Studies show that just the right amount of restorative sleep is essential for back health. But that’s not all – we need to examine the quality of our mattresses as well. The Spine Institute of North America recommends using a mattress with medium firmness. We suggest placing a pillow under your knees when lying on your back or between the knees to relieve pressure on the back when lying on your side.
Consider preventive chiropractic care
Many of us hear from people who benefitted from chiropractic care when they had chronic pains. What we don’t realise: chiropractic care could be a first line of defence to prevent back pain. The fact is your chiropractor can identify and set straight spinal misalignments even before they begin to cause serious pain.
Taking prevention seriously requires a mindset shift from our side, especially when a lot of us work within office cultures that may not take ergonomics seriously until a problem presents itself. Find your allies in your spine health journey, be it your friends, medical consultant, or chiropractor, and engage with them to support you through the challenges.