The work day ends, but the back pain doesn’t.
Sitting all day at a computer takes a toll on our backs. Yet, for a large percentage of Americans, sitting in front of a computer sums up their job description.
And that work-related back pain that starts out minor can soon become severe, causing problems in all areas of your life.
“The longer you have a back problem, the more damage it will create, the more it will resist getting better, and the more time it will take to heal,” says Bradford Butler, a chiropractor and author of The Blueprint for Back Pain Relief: The Essential Guide to Nonsurgical Solutions. “So, the best course is to prevent back problems from happening to begin with.”
Butler offers a few tips for those whose jobs require them to sit, sit and sit some more:
- Watch how you sit. Most people are putting pressure on their backs, necks, and shoulders because they don’t work in an ergonomically correct position, Butler says. Here’s how to achieve the optimal position: Sit with your body no more than an arm’s length from the computer and mouse, and don’t lean your head and neck forward. You should be able to rest your hand comfortably on the mouse with the elbow at the same height as the mouse pad. The monitor should be 2 or 3 inches above eye level.
- Choose the right chair. Ideally, you want a chair with lumbar support. “If there is no lumbar support, you can place a pillow behind your lower spine,” Butler says. Chairs that can tilt back also take pressure off the base of the spine and help prevent back pain. But if back pain has already started, Butler suggests placing ice between the lumbar support and the back for 20 minutes to reduce inflammation.
- Don’t cradle your phone. Have you ever pinned your phone between your shoulder and your ear so you can type while you talk? Butler has a one-word piece of advice: Don’t. “The intense strain from holding the phone that way for more than a couple of minutes can have a lasting effect on your posture and add to your back and neck pain,” he says.
- Take a break. For about five minutes every hour, get up and move around. Take a walk, stretch, or do anything that takes you away from the computer and lets your body escape all the sitting and staring you’ve been doing.
- Unload some baggage. Do you carry a bag or briefcase to work that’s so heavy even an Olympic weightlifter would feel the strain? If it weighs more than 10 percent of your body weight, then it’s putting too much of a strain on your back, Butler says. He suggests you lighten the load or get a different bag, preferably one with a long strap so it can be carried across your chest like a messenger bag. That can reduce the diagonal load on your back.
“It’s important to understand that your spine was designed to move,” Butler says. “If you are sitting for a good part of your day, you are effectively doing the opposite of what keeps your spine healthy.
“The old saying ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ couldn’t be truer, especially when it comes to your back. Prevention is a mindset. You probably already do it in other areas of your life. When it comes to your back, you just need some new thinking and new habits.”