Our Phoenix back pain chiropractor, Dr. Chance Moore, is very familiar with how office environments can affect a person’s body. Notably, the way we sit at our desks all day can create or exacerbate lower back pain or neck pain issues. If you’re looking for relief from either of these conditions–or other workplace-related pain conditions like carpal tunnel or hip pain–let’s look at some simple changes you can make to your office ergonomics today to help reduce muscle strain and tension.
Dr. Chance Moore, a back pain chiropractor in Phoenix, explains proper office posture
To get started, you’ll want to focus on your posture at the office. As our back pain chiropractor, Dr. Moore explains, there are three areas to focus on when improving your office ergonomics: your eyes, your head, and your thighs.
What are common back pain causes?
Since back pain is the most common condition associated with work-related pain, it makes sense to focus on the anatomy of the back.
The spine has a big job. It not only supports the entire body, but also gives us the flexibility for movement. When the spine and surrounding muscles are healthy and pain-free, most of us give little thought to the intricate network of bones and supporting components that give us so much freedom. But when we suffer from back pain, we notice every movement.
Although the spine has the ability to move in a variety of ways, holding the back in unnatural alignment for long periods of time in unhealthy. It may lead to back pain, particularly in the lumbar spine, which is the curved area in the lower back.
Repetitive movements like hunching over a computer during the day, lifting heavy objects on a job site, or slouching on the couch at night could contribute to or directly cause back pain. Fortunately, taking some precautions and staying aware of how you hold your spine can greatly reduce or eliminate back pain.
This video explains more of the science behind back pain.
How do I make sure my desk setup is ergonomic?
The stereotype of a desk-bound worker hunched over a computer has come to exemplify the modern workforce. Unfortunately, this unnatural position leads nowhere but back pain and suffering. The word “ergonomic” may bring to mind images of funny-shaped keyboards and a ramrod-straight posture, but using these tools and techniques helps to reduce the side effects of long hours spent sitting.
As our back pain chiropractor explained, a desk setup that encourages healthy posture starts at the head, making sure the computer screen rests at eye level. When your eyes are able to gaze straight ahead without tilting downward to peer at the screen, it ensures the head falls in line with the neck. This, in turn, helps keep the back straight.
When the computer screen rests below eye level, the eyes gaze down and the neck likely gets pushed forward, as our back pain chiropractor demonstrated in the video. The back might then hunch over to help the eyes move closer to the screen. This is a very unhealthy setup in terms of posture, and it easily leads to back or neck pain.
Reducing carpal tunnel pain and neck pain
After making sure the computer screen rests at eye level, you then must make sure the keyboard is at the appropriate level for ergonomics. The arms should have at least a 90-degree bend, with the wrists able to stay straight while typing. If you work on a laptop, you may want to invest in a second keyboard specifically for typing. That allows you to elevate the computer screen to eye level while having a second keyboard that lines up with your wrists.
You may also want to explore special equipment that reduces the repetitive tasks you engage in. For example, those who talk on the phone a lot may want to use a headset or add a shoulder rest to the handset. This eliminates the awkward neck position that comes from resting your head on your shoulder.
Next comes the feet, which should stay flat on the ground. Many people may be used to crossing their legs while sitting. This takes the body out of optimal alignment and could increase the risk for back pain. When it comes to ergonomics, every angle counts because the entire body is connected.
Finding a better chair
The chair you sit in is also very important, as our back pain chiropractor explained. The chair must be at an adequate height to allow for the wrists to reach the keyboard while keeping them straight. If the arms rest at an angle less than 90 degrees, switching chairs may be necessary.
Although most chairs are adjustable, some of them won’t go high enough to achieve optimal alignment. This varies from person to person and also depends on the height of your desk, so you may need to try several chairs before finding the right one.
The chair should also follow the one-inch rule. When sitting in the chair, a one-inch gap should remain between the backs of your knees and the edge of the seat. Also, there should be a one-inch border around your thighs and hips. The thighs should also extend at 90-degree or larger angle. Make sure you have plenty of room to move around so that you don’t feel constricted. Another thing to keep in mind is finding a chair that has lumbar support to cushion the lower spine.
Buying a chair with wheels is helpful for simplifying small movements. If you have back pain, try to stay aware of moving suddenly, especially without a straight spine. Leaning over to grab a piece of paper or pick up the phone may seem innocent enough. A back weakened from time or poor posture, though, may send out pangs of pain. Using the chair’s wheels to move closer to the object you need, or getting up from the chair, helps to protect the lower back.
Trying out a stability ball
Another option is to replace your chair with a stability ball for a few periods each day. Using a stability ball encourages the muscles in your core and lower back to engage, ultimately strengthening them and potentially reducing back pain. This was shown in a report in The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association.
Make sure to select a stability ball that allows your feet to comfortably rest flat on the floor. For proper ergonomics, the hips should ideally rest above the knees. When first starting to use the stability ball, take care to begin in small amounts of time. The Canadian researchers suggest sitting on the ball for 20 minutes each day, although you may need to work up to that. Never sit on the ball for longer than it is comfortable for you.
Once you’re comfortable with sitting on the stability ball, stay as long as you wish, as long as there is no pain.
Have you considered a standing desk?
Our back pain chiropractor, Dr. Moore, didn’t touch on this in the video, but a standing desk can be another great option for relieving lower back pain. Many of the same rules of paying attention to the head and neck apply when using a standing desk, however.
Benefits of standing desks
According to recent research, one of the worst things you can do for your health is something that we all do, every day. It’s not eating too much fat or sugar; it’s not smoking or misusing prescription medications. Chances are, you are doing it right now.
The one bad health habit we all have is sitting too much.
Because of this, many people are gravitating toward standing desks. Even alternating between the two, spending much of the day seated with intervals spent standing, can have a marked impact on lower back pain. Standing desks help to strengthen leg and back muscles, and they also help encourage optimal blood flow. When seated, the body’s major muscles begin to contract and the entire metabolism slows down, which can harm your health.
Sitting has been called the new smoking because of its health risks. Experts now recommend that people stand for at least two hours each day, preferably working their way up to four, reports The Washington Post. The average office worker sits for ten hours a day. Many health experts say this increases the risk for heart disease, obesity, cancer, and depression, not to mention back pain.
The research on sitting
The dangers of such sedentary activity are well-documented. The average person sits for six hours a day, and this does not include sitting at work. Even if you increase your activity outside of work, many of us still have jobs that require work at a desk. Many back pain chiropractors see patients specifically because of how much they sit.
Stand-up desks are getting more attention as the push for more physical activity increases. A study by the University of Iowa looked at the effects of sit/stand-up desks on employee activity. Using data from a small study group of mostly female office workers, researchers found that having the option to stand and work caused workers to stand up more often during the course of their day. This occurred even after the novelty of the desk wore off.
Employees with sit/stand-up desks stood up 60 minutes more a day than their counterparts without that option. This resulted in the burning of 87 extra calories daily, just by standing up.
Even though the study is small-scale, this is an important finding. Dr. Lucas Carr is an assistant professor in the department of health and human physiology and member of the Obesity Research and Education Initiative at the UI. He pointed out the dramatic change in the workforce that has corresponded with a rise in obesity in the U.S., saying:
“Studies suggest American workers today burn roughly 100 calories-less each day while at work compared to American workers in 1960. This decline in occupational energy expenditure is thought to play a substantial role in the rising obesity epidemic we have observed over that same time period.”
Before you make the switch to standing
There are a few things to consider when making the switch to a stand-up desk.
- You will be tired: Switching from sitting all day to standing for most of the day is definitely going to cause you to feel more physically fatigued at the end of the day. That is, at least until you get used to it. You don’t have to spend your entire workday on your feet. Aim for 15 minutes of standing every hour, gradually increasing as you feel stronger.
- Posture matters: If you are standing with poor posture, your back is going to let you know. Paying attention to the ergonomics of your desk is crucial, but it is also important to stand correctly. This is right in line with the advice our back pain chiropractor gave. Office ergonomics come down to paying attention to where your head, neck, and thighs are at all times.
- Wear the proper footwear: A stand-up desk requires supportive footwear. Standing all day in three-inch heels is not doing your body any favors. If you wear heels at work, keep them at one inch or lower or switch to flats when you stand up. You can also lay down an ergonomic mat to protect your feet.
Finding a standing desk that works for you
If you’d like to try a stand-up desk, make sure that whichever one you buy or create runs along the same ergonomic principles outlined for sitting. That means the eyes should be level with the computer screen, the elbows should rest at a 90-degree angle, and the wrists should reach the keyboard in a straight line. No matter if you spend the day seated or standing, taking occasional breaks to stretch is always a good idea.
A stand-up desk is very simple, in both theory and practice. These desks remove the chair, raising your workspace so that you can work comfortably while standing. Some of the ready-made desks have a foot rest so that you can take the weight off of one leg every now and again. Others are simply a table with your computer and monitor on it.
There are some key measurements to take into consideration when looking into buying a stand-up desk. You cannot just place your laptop on a tall table and call it a day. Ergonomics are an important consideration.
- To begin, the desk height should be directly in line with your bent elbows, or just slightly below.
- You should have 20 to 28” of space between your eyes and your computer monitor.
- Your computer monitor should be tilted at a 20-degree angle.
- The monitor and the keyboard should not be at the same height. Raise your monitor slightly. For this reason, a laptop is not the best choice when working at a stand-up desk.
Making your own standing desk
Many stand-up desks come with fancy features and accessories that can really add up. As with most things there are many more affordable options.
You can build your own stand-up desk for less than $30 using various tables and benches from Ikea. Or, you can look for more affordable, ready-made options. You can convert your current sitting desk easily and quickly with just a few accessories.
What if I have back pain from my manual job?
While our back pain chiropractor discussed pain conditions that are related to working in an office, many manual job workers also experience pain. In fact, people whose jobs require them to complete manual tasks while in awkward positions are eight times more likely to develop back pain than other types of workers, according to the Arthritis Care and Research journal. Distraction and fatigue were other factors that significantly increased a person’s risk of developing back pain. The study also found that people working between the hours of 7 a.m. and noon were most at risk.
Researchers said identifying the main risk factors was critical to developing strategies to circumvent them and help people complete their jobs while staying healthy. People in careers like construction are especially susceptible to back pain. This is because they must complete work tasks while carrying heavy equipment or working in unnatural positions.
Reducing your lower back pain risk at a manual job
For people who use their bodies a lot during the day, it can be difficult to figure out how to work in a safe way. But taking a few precautions helps to reduce risk. Our back pain chiropractor recommended a few more tips for reducing pain through the day.
First, plan how you’ll lift a heavy object before actually picking it up, recommends Intelihealth. Testing the real weight of an object helps better prepare the body. It also ensures you have enough room to safely lift it. For especially heavy loads, ask for help from a coworker.
Another tip is to take your time while lifting. Distracted workers are more likely to develop back pain than non-distracted workers. This is because it’s easy to inadvertently pull a muscle when rushing through a task. It’s better to take extra time and complete less work than experience an injury or pang of back pain. This will slow you down even more or maybe even send you home.
Exercise proper lifting form, with bent knees. Engage the stomach muscles so the core helps to support the spine as you lift, recommends Intelihealth. Spread the feet wide, placing one foot in front of the other to ensure maximum grip. Also, make sure to take frequent breaks and give your body the recovery time it needs.
Finding a back pain chiropractor for pain relief
Once you’ve implemented these changes, you may find that while your back pain improves slightly. However, you may also find that you need more help on your journey towards finding pain relief. This is where a dedicated back pain chiropractor or pain doctor can help you get back to a life without pain.
Often, a focused treatment plan created by a team of healthcare professionals like those at Arizona Pain is your best bet when dealing with a chronic pain condition. A chronic pain condition is one that has lasted more than three months. After you’ve worked with a back pain chiropractor or pain doctor, you can begin to incorporate physical therapy, exercise, and proper office ergonomics into your life. This is to make sure the pain doesn’t return.
If you’re interested in learning how you can find a life without pain, click the button below to schedule a time to talk to one of our back pain chiropractors or pain doctors.
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