How to Prevent Back Pain When Working in an Office
Back pain isn’t exclusive to blue-collar workers with physically laborious jobs. White-collar workers can suffer from it as well. In fact, research shows about one-third of all office workers will experience back pain in a 12-month period.
If you work in an office, you’ll probably spend a large portion of your time sitting, which can take a toll on your spinal column and its supporting tissues. Many people assume that sitting is good for their back, but this isn’t necessarily true. Sitting, especially for long periods, is actually bad for your back because it compresses your spinal column. When you sit for long periods, your spinal column will essentially remain in a “squished” state where its intervertebral discs are all packed tightly together, resulting in back pain. You can prevent back pain when working in an office, however, by taking a few precautions.
Evaluate the Ergonomics of Your Office Chair
To prevent back pain, you must use a high-quality and ergonomic office chair. According to a survey conducted by Fellowes, the average office worker sits for four to nine hours each day. Over the course of a year, that translates into 67 days of sitting. If your office chair isn’t ergonomically designed, all that sitting can contribute to back pain.
How do you know if your office chair is ergonomically designed? Ergonomics refers to a product or place that’s designed to meet the needs of a human worker. Regarding office chairs, ergonomic features include a lower cushion for lumbar support, an adjustable height, a five-point rolling caster system, and a supportive bottom. If your office chair lacks these features, or if your office chair causes back pain or discomfort, you may want to replace it.
Use Your Office Chair’s Armrests
Proper arm angle when sitting
Assuming your office chair has armrests – which it should – using them will help stabilize your spine so that it’s less susceptible to pain and injury. Armrests do more than just support your arms and elbows; they support your spinal column as well. You can see for yourself by propping your arms on the armrests, followed by lowering the armrests. Upon lowering the armrests, your shoulders will immediately drop. And as your shoulders drop, your spinal column will compress.
Studies show that using an office chair’s armrests can reduce the amount of weight placed on the worker’s spinal column by up to 10%. Unfortunately, not all office workers use them. Neglecting to use your office chair’s armrests will only increase the amount of weight placed on your spinal column, which may cause or contribute to back pain.
With that said, you may need to adjust your office chair’s armrests for proper ergonomics. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the following problems can arise with improperly adjusted armrests:
- If the armrests are too low, you may inadvertently lean your body to the side while subsequently straining your neck and spinal column.
- If the armrests are too high, your shoulders will remain high, where they promote stress and tension in your neck.
- If the armrests are too wide, you’ll have to extend your arms farther in front of your body to grab objects, which can cause muscle fatigue in your neck and back.
- If the armrests are too close to your body, you may struggle to get in and out of your office chair.
- If the armrests are too big, your office chair may not fit under your desk. Alternatively, oversized armrests may interfere with your ability to type using a keyboard.
Wear the Right Shoes
The shoes you wear to the office can affect your susceptibility to back pain. Most companies have dress codes requiring their workers to wear a specific type of attire, such as a formal suit or business casual outfit. As a result, many office workers neglect to choose comfortable and supportive shoes. Instead, they choose footwear based entirely on whether it complies with their company’s dress code.
You should still comply with your company’s dress code, but it’s important to choose comfortable and supportive shoes. Shoes help to support your feet and stabilize your spinal column. With each stride you take, your shoes will absorb some of the impact. If your shoes are poorly designed, degraded, or if they don’t fit, they won’t be able to perform this task.
So, what type of shoes you wear to the office? If you’re a woman, consider wearing formal or semi-formal flats rather than high heels. According to The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA), 71% of women who wear high heels experience foot pain. If you’re a man, you’ll have a little more freedom regarding your footwear. Oxfords, derbies, loafers, and even dress boots are all great choices. Just remember to choose shoes in the right size for your feet. Otherwise, they may cause discomfort that manifests in the form of both foot pain and back pain.
Stand Up and Walk Around
Refrain from sitting all day! Even if you use a high-quality and ergonomic office chair, you should get into the habit of standing up and walking around periodically to lower your risk of back pain. Far too many office workers rarely or never stand after sitting down at their cubicle or workstation. They only stand when it’s break time or at the end of the workday.
By standing and walking around, however, you’ll reduce the amount of pressure on your spine, which may lower your risk of developing back pain. Sitting compresses the spinal column about three times more than standing. Therefore, extended periods of sitting forces your spine into a highly compressed state where it’s more susceptible to injury.
If you’re worried about back pain, try to stand and walk around for at least five minutes every half-hour. Even if it’s nothing more than a short walk around your office, this gives you an opportunity to alleviate the pressure on your spinal column. You can then return to your cubicle or workstation feeling rejuvenated and ready to tackle the workday.