Prolonged sitting along with bending, twisting and lifting are the major causes of back pain.
What does sitting do to my back?
Prolonged sitting along with bending, twisting and lifting are the major mechanical causes of back pain. The spine is designed to be upright, so the sitting posture creates muscle tension, joint strain, and pressure on the discs in between your vertebrae. After only 15 to 20 minutes of sitting at a desk or computer station the back muscles become fatigued. As muscles become overloaded in this posture, they tighten to protect themselves. This protective reaction by the body eventually leads to back pain.
How Can I Relax My Back Muscles?
The first and most important thing to do is to stand up frequently. Micro breaks every 20 minutes are crucial to preventing the muscles from tightening. A short walk every hour also reinvigorates the back muscles. Gentle exercise has two effects – first, it brings nutrients, like oxygen, into the muscles; and second, it drains irritating toxins away from the painful area. The result is that we break the self-sustaining pain-tension cycle which otherwise would gradually build up.
The other way to prevent back pain is to use ergonomically designed office equipment. A professional assessment of your work station is ideal, but in the absence of this, here are some guidelines;
- Use a height adjustable chair. Your hips and knees should be bent at an angle slightly greater than 90 degrees
- A chair with some lumbar support and arm rests will reduce muscle fatigue
- Sit with your bottom right back in the seat, do not perch on the edge
- Feet flat on the floor or a footrest
- Your computer keyboard should be at elbow height
- One third of the way down your computer monitor, should be at eye level
- You shouldn't have to reach for the mouse at your computer, keep it close to you
- Headsets for telephone usage are essential
Work stations are very individual, so there may be many more things you can do to improve your posture and reduce the impact on your body. So feel free to talk to your osteopath if you have any concerns or questions.
Dr. Alois Brügger, a Swiss neurologist, developed a very simple exercise to activate the muscles weakened from sitting while simultaneously stretching those tightened by this posture.
While sitting in your chair follow these simple steps:
- Perch at the edge of your chair
- Turn your feet out slightly
- Have your feet be slightly farther apart than your hips
- Tuck your chin in slightly as if nodding "yes"
- Breath into your tummy
- Slowly exhale actively by blowing the breath out through your lips while rotating your arms outwards (palms forward), spreading your fingers as far apart as possible and lifting your breastbone slightly
This can be performed once or twice for every 20-30 minutes of prolonged sitting.