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5 Tips For A Healthy Back

You’ll probably experience work-related back pain at some point. Caryn Gootkin asks the experts how we can avoid it.

People who sit for long stretches are at increased risk of developing back pain – and many jobs require us to sit all day. “Poor posture is one of the leading causes of back pain,” says biokineticist Gerrie Berner. “Over time, the stress of poor posture will cause problems: your muscles become weaker and stiffer when you sit for hours every day, even more so if you sit incorrectly, and this increases your risk of back injuries.”

The good news is that there are changes you can make to your workstation to avoid backache.

  1. Standing desks

The key benefit of standing desks (or sit-to-stand desks) is the ability to alternate your working position and posture several times a day. “Alternating between various positions promotes movement and change in the load on the lower back and its supportive structures,” says Piet Nel, physiotherapist and director at Ergonomicsdirect. “It also promotes blood circulation and ensures that the muscles of both the lower back and core stay active and ‘engaged’. Those with lower back pain can change position as soon as they start experiencing discomfort, which usually results in partial or complete relief.”

  1. The correct chair

Your working chair should have adjustable lower back (lumbar) support because we all have different body proportions. “The structure of our lumbar curve also differs in length and depth, so lumbar support is not ‘one size fits all’,” says Nel. “Your lower back is the link between your upper body and pelvis. It carries a high load in a seated position, which can place unnecessary strain on the spinal structures. A small corrective change in the position of the lumbar support, often to the correct height, can have an impactful postural effect on the rest of the spine, drastically improving the support provided by the backrest of the chair and overall comfort experienced by the user.”

  1. Footrests

Footrests are a critical part of a correct ergonomic set-up. “This is especially true for users shorter than 1.7m,” says Nel. “When your feet are not firmly supported (flat) on the floor, your pelvis will tilt anteriorly, making your lower back move away from the chair’s backrest. Without a footrest, individuals whose feet cannot touch the ground often compensate by sitting sideways or crossing their legs and resting one foot on the frame of the chair. This causes rotation, which can lead to other postural issues.”

  1. Laptop stands

Laptops make us prone to sitting hunched over, which is very bad for our backs. “It is important to use a laptop stand to raise the level of the screen so that we don’t hunch over or lean forward,” says Dr Tamsyn Dixon, chiropractor and co-developer of Noapop, an ergonomic laptop stand. “After seeing countless patients suffering from neck and back pain due to poor ergonomics when working on computers, I designed this simple yet effective laptop stand.

“Good ergonomics improves the biomechanics of the spine as well as breathing availability which ultimately improves well-being and productivity.”

  1. Exercise

Gentle stretches at your desk help ease the stiffness caused by long bouts of sitting, but to ease back pain we need to strengthen our core muscles. “By strengthening the core, the extensor muscles of the spine and the glutes, we can significantly improve back pain,” says Dixon. “Our bodies are designed to move, so get moving!”

Mind over matter Treating back pain costs billions of rand around the world, but researchers believe it’s the inevitable price we pay for learning to walk on two legs, says Helen Thomson, writing in The New Scientist. Much of that money could be saved, as many popular treatments have been shown to be no better than a placebo. Exercise, quitting smoking and losing weight are all highly advised, though. (Source: The New Scientist)

Image: ©iStock - 922542922

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