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If your job involves you being hunched over a desk for hours on end, you might have experienced backache. And, if you already suffer from acute or chronic back pain, then dealing with all that sitting can get extremely painful.
The general advice for those who suffer from this condition is to rest it out. But, there are only so many leaves that you can afford to take. This, however, doesn’t mean that you suffer in silence at work. A few simple things can help make it easier for you to get through your 9–5.
1. Sit Right
The right posture involves the perfect alignment of the bones of the spine and the vertebrae. And, the importance of this cannot be overstated. Not only does good posture relieve pain in the back, but also prevents it from getting worse.
An easy way to be aware of your posture is to imagine a string that’s attached to your head is pulling you upwards, making you taller. Ensure that your ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles are even and lined up vertically. Here are a few tips to ensure that you’ve good posture when you sit.
- Sit upright as far back in your chair as possible.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Ensure that your chin is parallel to the floor.
- Relax your shoulders and be aware of the curve in your lower back.
Each time you notice that you’re hunching, use these tips to fix your posture. You could also roll up a towel and place it behind your lower back to maintain the normal lumbar curve. This will help you get in the habit of sitting right as well.[ref]Posture and back health. Harvard Health Publishing.[/ref]
2. Stretch Often
The most common way to deal with back pain is to pop a painkiller. But, recent research has shown that the best and most safe treatments for back pain aren’t medications. This is because most forms of back pain eventually get better on their own and don’t need medications.[ref]If you have low back pain try these steps first. Harvard Health Publishing.[/ref]
Stretches, however, are recommended for the pain. And, although there aren’t any specific stretches that work best for back pain, here are a few that you can do at work to relieve back pain and maintain a good posture.
- Shoulder blade squeeze: Sit up straight in your chair and rest your hands on your thighs. Keep your shoulders down and ensure that your chin is parallel to the floor. Then slowly draw your shoulders back and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold this position for 5 counts and relax. Repeat this 3–4 times, each time you take a break.
- Abdominal squeeze: Sit upright in your chair and inhale deeply. Exhale slowly to a count of five and as you do, pull your lower abdominal muscles up and in. Imagine that your belly button is moving towards your backbone as you do this. Relax and repeat a few times.
- Arm-across-chest pull: Sit up straight in your chair and raise your right arm to shoulder level in front of you. Bend this arm at the elbow and ensure that your forearm is parallel to the floor. Grasp the right elbow with your left hand and pull it across your chest. You should feel a stretch in your right upper arm and shoulder. Hold this position for 20 seconds and relax. Repeat with the opposite hand.
In addition to this, ensure that you exercise regularly and stretch at home. This will help strengthen your abdominal and back muscles.[ref]Posture and back health. Harvard Health Publishing.[/ref]
3. Avoid Smoke Breaks
Recent research indicates that smoking might worsen back pain. This is because smoking reduces blood flow to the lower spine which, in turn, contributes to spinal disc degeneration.
Additionally, smoking might increase the risk of osteoporosis and impede healing. Coughing due to heavy smoking may also worsen back pain. So, whenever you do take a break, try a few stretches or a brisk walk, instead.[ref]Low Back Pain Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.[/ref]
4. Don’t Sit For Too Long
Sitting in one position for too long can cause muscle fatigue and cause tension in your lower back muscles. It might also cause changes in the lumbar disk, which could worsen your pain.[ref]Beach, Tyson AC, Robert J. Parkinson, J. Peter Stothart, and Jack P. Callaghan. “Effects of prolonged sitting on the passive flexion stiffness of the in vivo lumbar spine.” The Spine Journal 5, no. 2 (2005): 145-154.[/ref] [ref]Posture and back health. Harvard Health Publishing.[/ref] So be sure to take a break every 30 minutes or so. But, if you can’t get up too often, be sure to elevate your feet on a low stool.[ref] [ref]Low Back Pain Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.[/ref]
5. Set Up A Pain-Busting Work Station
It’s important to have pain-relieving hacks at your desk to avoid any episodes of acute pain. To do this, ensure that your chair has appropriate lumbar support. If it doesn’t, place a rolled up towel or pillow in the small of the back.[ref]Low Back Pain Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.[/ref]
Have heating pads or hot water bottles handy. Applying these on your back will relax aching muscles and increase blood flow, hence aiding in the healing process. However, it’s important to note that heat therapy only works for the first one week.[ref]Home remedies for low back pain. Harvard Health Publishing.[/ref]
6. Stay Positive
Recent research suggests that back pain is often the cause of our negative thoughts, feelings, and resulting behavior. Hence, if you’re stressed, anxious, angry, and frustrated often, your mind might be to blame for your pain.
Cognitive behavioral therapy helped a lot of patients get rid of back pain. When you’re at work, you could try simple breathing techniques during breaks to keep your pain at bay.[ref]Mind over back pain. Harvard Health Publishing.[/ref]
In addition to these tips, ensure that you wear comfortable shoes that offer good support to your back. Do talk to your colleagues about your struggles and how you’re working through them so they can understand and support you. Back pain might seem like it’s permanent but there are ways to get through the pain. And, following these tips at work can help make getting through the day easier.