10 Tips for Less Back Pain at The Office

Judith Guertin Posted in Getting Organized

Quick and easy ways to be more comfortable sitting at your desk.

10 Tips for Less Back Pain at The Office

 Did you wake up with back pain today? If you did, you have a lot of company. According to the American Chiropractic Association, low back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide. It is one of the most common reasons for missing work, and the second most common reason for doctor’s office visits. Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on back pain.

If you are an office worker who suffers from back pain, or if you have in the past, read on. Do you spend most of your day sitting at a desk? If so, you need to pay special attention to something called Office Ergonomics. In a nutshell, it is the science of how people and their environment work together. This is a very important concept in office design. Properly executed, your furniture, technology, and tools work together to support a healthy and pain-free work environment. Executed properly, you avoid unnecessary strain during your workday. 

When I work with clients, one of the first things I like to check out is their version of “command central.” Where do they spend most of their time working? Where do they sit, how far are the things they use every day from that position? What kind of computer set up do they have? Do they use a laptop, desktop, or tablet? Do they use multiple monitors, printers, scanners, file cabinets, desktop file holders? What kind of desk do they have? How high is it, how wide is it? Is it adjustable? However, the biggest and most important piece of office equipment I ask to see is their chair.

For many of us, about a third of our life and most of our working day is spent in front of the computer screen…sitting! When your chair is lacking, your day and possibly your evening and night will suffer. This is especially true if you are using a laptop without a separate keyboard. Using a laptop on your lap can lead to back and neck pain, poor posture and head position.

Here are some tips to help you increase your comfort and productivity. Try them out and see if you don't notice a difference!

  1. Get up off of that chair, or as James Brown sang in 1967…” get up off of that thing!” (I know you just started singing that song in your head, didn’t you?) If you need a song to get you up and moving, check him out on YouTube. So, don’t sit for more than a few minutes without doing something to change your position. Stand up, take a few deep breaths, perform some office worker stretches and then sit back down. This simple stand and stretch break will change the way your weight is distributed. Now, when you sit back down, this change will help to re-hydrate the discs in your spine. It will also help to ease stress and tension that builds up in your neck, spine, arms, legs. If you need a source for helpful stretches, here is a link for a great resource from the Mayo Clinic.
  2. Check out your armrests. Adjust them down if they are forcing you to raise your shoulders up towards your ears. Your forearms should be resting comfortably on the armrests.
  3. Change the position of your chair throughout the day. Avoid facing only to the right or to the left. Your neck, back, and hip muscles are all affected by keeping this one posture for long periods of time.
  4. Change what you sit on, or stand for part of your day. Sit on an exercise ball, a different chair, or use a standing desk, walking desk or cycling desk for part of the day. Get out of the static sitting posture whenever you can.
  5. Stamp out global chin jutting!!!! Look around at your coworkers right now. How many of them are leaning forward at their desks, and looking at their computers with their heads tilted up and their chins jutted forward? The font on the screen might be too small, or maybe their glasses are not quite strong enough. If you do this yourself, you know the neck pain this leads to very well. It may only take a few adjustments to eliminate this problem permanently. You can learn more here. If you have neck pain especially, check it out!
  6. Technology is a wonderful thing…Did you know that you can increase the size of the text on your screens? Yup, make that print easier to read even if you need new glasses. This will help with chin jutting and forward leaning.
  7. Just look away. Staring at the screen is hard on your eyes. If you feel your eyes burning and stinging, take a few moments to look away from the screen. Close your eyes, blink a few times to allow your tears to do their job. If you don’t make enough of your own tears, ask your eye professional about which over the counter product would be best for you. Ahhh!
  8. It is a numbers game. When you sit at your desk you should have your feet flat on the floor, your knees at 90° and your hips at 90°. Sit up straight with a slight lumbar curve. Your head will be over your shoulders and not jutted forward. If you already suffer from back pain, studies show that increasing the angle of the chair back to 135° is helpful for lowering the incidence of back pain.
  9. Look at it this way. Make your eye level for reading appropriate to the screen. You should be looking slightly downward into the screen with your arms resting comfortably on the armrests of your chair. Your shoulders will be relaxed, and your hand will rest comfortably on the mouse and/or the trackpad.
  10. Have your email read to you. Now if you are sharing an office with others this is definitely an activity where a headset is best. Give your eyes a rest, stand up and select read aloud from the Outlook 2016 ribbon. Some of my clients actually use this method to help them capture what is important in an email. Having mail read aloud can even help you remember more of what is in that message than simply skimming with your eyes.

So, there you have it. Ten simple ways to improve your office ergonomics. Give some a try and see if they don’t make your day a more productive one! Cheers!

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