Roughly 80 out of a hundred people suffer from back pain. It may range from simple back pain triggered by movements as simple as reaching for your lower office drawer to chronic back pain that may require a series of physical therapy sessions or even surgery.
Treating back pain is a billion dollar industry in the United States alone. It is a common problem next to the common cold and flu. Despite being so common, people tend not to examine and change their work habits that cause back pain.
Here are some practical tips to avoid back pain while at work:
Examine your workstation
You need to setup your working space and make it optimal for whatever you do. Aside from having a good office chair, you need to make sure that your computer monitor, keyboard, filing cabinets, paper trays, among others are adjusted and arranged properly so you do not have to exert extra effort using or reaching for them.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a good reference on how you can tweak your workstation. You can access the reference through their website.
Using the right bag
If you regularly bring a briefcase, purse, or bag to work, make sure that it does not weigh more than 10 per cent of your weight. Anything more than that is too heavy for your body. Ideally, you want a bag that has a long strap like a messenger bag. The key to this is weight distribution. Make sure it does not burden one side of your body with more weight. If this is the case, switch shoulders from time to time.
When using backpacks for your laptop, make sure that the bag conforms to the shape of your back and is not hanging low. Carry your laptop bag improperly and you subject your shoulders and back to undue stress.
Experts recommend that you get up from your workstation and stretch at least twice every hour. This does not take much time and is like pressing the reset button for your tired body. Stretch the way you do when you wake up. Do it with your arms stretching upward to the ceiling. You can also rotate your trunk from side to side, do some shoulder rolls, stretch your shoulders, tilt your neck in all directions, or do some lunges.
Support and cushion
If you spend most of your time at your desk, make sure that you have a good chair to start with. A well-designed office chair is essential to preventing back pain. The seat must be comfortable with the backrest conforming to your back so as to support your spine. If your chair does not provide enough back support, use a small pillow or a rolled towel to give that added lumbar support.
If your job requires you to stand for long periods of time, stand on a rubber mat. This will help you avoid having a sore back and will also help promote good circulation.
You might have experienced an excruciating pain when you tried to pick up a pen from the floor at one point or another. Remember that proper body mechanics is critical in preventing back pain. If you need to pick up something from the floor, bend your knees and lower your whole body to get close enough to the object you need to pick up. In case you are involved in some heavy lifting at work, use the muscles of your legs, thigh, and tummy to lift the weight. Avoid bending over or twisting while dealing with heavy loads.
You have to be very conscious of imbalances in your body when you do things at work. Do you tend to lean against your desk while thinking? Do you cradle the phone between your head and shoulder while talking? Or maybe you have a wallet in your back pocket that impinges on a nerve on your buttock?
Crunches and lunches
It is widely accepted that strengthening your core muscles will help prevent back pain. However, you have to remember that what you eat may also help. You need to take in food rich in calcium to make your bones strong. Medical experts also suggest consuming foods rich in vitamin K. You can find it in leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli. Stronger bones will mean a stronger frame for your whole body.
Diet is also linked to fighting off cortisol, a hormone produced by our body during stressful situations. A healthy workday diet that includes protein, vegetables, fruits, grains, and a lot of water is helpful in preventing back pain.
Move, move, move!
You cannot allow yourself to be glued to your chair for hours. Prolonged hours sitting on your office chair builds pressure on the spinal discs which serve as cushion for your back. Stand and walk around once every thirty minutes or when you have a phone call.
Deal with stress
Work may feel like a war zone when it is very stressful. If you experience stress, most likely your back will feel it. When you are stressed, your body tenses up and does not allow your back muscles to relax. This creates back spasms leading to muscle imbalances and eventually back pain.
Make sure you engage in other activities that let you relax, be it a quality time with the family, a session at the gym, running, or spending time at the spa. Allowing yourself to escape from your daily routine will help you ready up for the next day.
You have to do things outside of work to prevent back pain at work. Exercising is one way to lower the risks and frequency of back pain. Medical experts suggest engaging in regular regimen like brisk walking, using strengthening machines at the gym, or joining yoga classes. Remember your limitations though when exercising. You need to consider your overall physical condition, age, and any existing medical conditions.
Sleeping enough and sleeping right
You need to get enough sleep and you need to sleep the right way. Make sure that your bed is not too soft nor too hard. Recent studies suggest that people sleeping in softer beds have lower occurrences of back pain. You also have to adjust your pillow right. Your pillow must support your upper back but it should not be too high as to push your chin against your chest. If you sleep on your side, your chin should not be curved up or down so as you feel a stretch on one side of your neck.