Nearly 80 percent of people will experience back pain at least once in their life, and during a single year about 20 percent of adults suffer from back pain. Irrespective of the type of back pain, it will negatively impact your working and performance at work. Unfortunately, many occupations — such as long distance driving, nursing, construction and factory work — can place significant demands on your back. Even routine office work can cause or worsen back pain. Understand what causes back pain at work and what you can do to prevent it.
Common causes of back pain at work
A number of factors can contribute to back pain at work. For example:
Force: Exerting too much force on your back — such as by lifting or moving heavy objects — can cause injury.
Repetition: Repeating certain movements, especially those that involve twisting or rotating your spine, can injure your back.
Inactivity: An inactive job or a desk job can contribute to back pain, especially if you have poor posture or sit all day in a chair with inadequate back support.
Back pain and lifestyle factors
Maintain a healthy weight. Ensure a healthy balanced diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D. Combine aerobic exercise, such as swimming or walking, with exercises that strengthen and stretch your back muscles and abdomen. The type and intensity of exercise would depend on your age, fitness levels and other medical problems if any. Smoking accelerates spinal disc degeneration and must be stopped.
How to reduce back pain at work
If you want to prevent or manage back pain at work, consider these tips for reducing office back pain:
- Create An Ergonomic Workspace by:
- Positioning everything within arm’s reach to avoid leaning or stretching.
- Adjust your monitor height so the top of your monitor is at eye level.
- Adjust monitor brightness and font size.
- Adjust your desk or chair height: so that your elbows form a 75 to 90-degree angle when your hands are on the surface of your desk and you are sitting up straight.
- The Right Office Chair should have:
- Adjustable height.
- Adjustable backrest.
- Adjustable armrests.
- Lumbar support.
- Comfortable material.
- Able to swivel.
- Practice Good Posture Taking care not to slouch or lean unknowingly.
- Lift properly. When lifting and carrying a heavy object, get close to the object, bend your knees and tighten your stomach muscles. Use your leg muscles to support your body as you stand up. Don't twist when lifting. If an object is too heavy to lift safely, ask for help or use a lifting device.
- Walk with good posture: Keep your shoulders back and chin up while walking around the office. Stand tall to stretch out your back after sitting at your desk.
- Use a hands-free phone: Instead of tilting your head to hold your telephone on your shoulder, consider switching to a hands-free device, such as a headset or speakerphone.
- Take Frequent Short Breaks. If you must sit for a prolonged period, change your position often. Periodically walk around and gently stretch your muscles to relieve tension. It is a good idea to take a short walking break (even for a couple of minutes) every hour or so.
- Wear Supportive Shoes If you walk around your office frequently, choose comfortable shoes instead of high heels. High-heeled shoes can negatively affect the alignment of your spine and body, which harms your posture.
- Remove your wallet or cellphone from your back pocket when sitting to prevent putting extra pressure on your buttocks or lower back.
Treatments for office back pain
Below are a few tips for treating lower back pain:
- Use hot or cold packs: When experiencing back pain at work, using a cold or hot pack on your back may offer temporary relief.
- Strengthen your core.
- Stay active.
Stretch: Keep your muscles loose by stretching your back and shoulders regularly. Neck and shoulder rolls can also help relieve back tension at work.
Sleep well: on a firm surface and on your side or back, rather than on your stomach.
If however back pain is severe, continuous or recurring its best to consult a spine specialist for professional advice.
(The Author is Senior Director & Head- Neurosurgery, Max Super Specialty Hospital, Saket, New Delhi)