How to Keep Your Lower Back Pain-Free in an Office Chair
People working at a desk job sit on chairs that are usually comfortable for the greater part of the day. Most also use laptops and screens. In fact most office jobs are largely sedentary and it is only now that the negative effects of sitting for long are being realized and getting publicity.
How Sitting Contributes to Lower Back Pain
When lower back pain is pre-existing, sitting for long periods can aggravate back pain. That is because sitting slouched puts a strain on the muscles of back as well as spinal discs. It can put pressure on arm, shoulder and neck muscles as well and these tight and jammed muscles also contribute to lower back pain. Sitting in odd positions, with the neck out or at an angle and the back not resting against the chair, can result in lower back pain.
In fact, the back has different kinds of bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and discs and these interact with one another to give your back the required flexibility. If even one thing is affected it can have an exponential affects on the other areas of your back and that is one of the reasons that back pain is very common.
If you consider statistics of lower back pain, you will be surprised. A staggering 95% of people in America suffer from lower back pain at least once. Of these, 85% will have a recurrence. What is worse is that 30-50% of these will not experience significant relief from the pain. The cost to healthcare in the US is a staggering $100 billion.
Apart from that back pain, especially lower back pain, results in lowered productivity and affects a person’s health negatively. When you have lower back pain you can suffer from a host of problems like
- Body ache
- Mood swings
- Acidity due to pain killers
- Sleep disorders
- Life span
As one or more of these can affect the quality of your life, you should try to take care of your lower back pain. It should certainly not be taken lightly.
How Sitting in an Office Chair Results in Lower Back Pain
Human beings are meant to be active, standing and moving. Sitting is not a natural posture. Sitting with your neck at an angle adds to stress on the muscles. The muscles then become tight and may even go into a spasm, increasing the pain even further.
Therefore, avoid sitting for long periods of time on your office chair without any movement. Get up and walk around from time to time, do some shoulder and back stretches and work standing when you can. Walk for a minute or two every hour in the very least.
Aids for Sitting on an Office Chair
While you can use an ergonomic chair and that may have some benefits, or use a back/lumbar support cushion, these can give mixed results, particularly if you are already suffering from lower back pain. It is also important to correct your posture, more specially the parts that impact your back pain.
You should check the height of the chair with the height of the desktop. Don’t forget about your own height as well. Your upper arms should rest parallel to your spine. Ideally your elbows should rest at a 90°angle on the armrests of your chair. Your butt should rest at the back of the chair. If you feel that there is a gap and you cannot sit comfortably like this, then it is best to use cushion against your lower back so that it gets adequate support, since the back as a natural arch.
The lumbar support cushion is important since the chair may not fit your natural arch. If you find that you are still slouching, then you are doing something wrong and you need to correct your posture. Your computer screen should be level with your eyes – if you have look downwards or upwards to see the screen you need to adjust either your chair or the screen as you can get neck strain.
Problems with Sitting
Sitting for long can be dangerous to health. When you generally lead a sedentary lifestyle and are not active, do not follow a regular exercise program or indulge in physical activity you can face many physical and psychological problems. Too much sitting can cause
- Low metabolism
- Decreased energy expenditure
- Poor posture
- Spinal and back trauma
- Chronic pain
- Increased risk of diabetes and heart problems
Many of these aspects compound lower back pain as well if you already have it or can lead to low back pain in the long run.
Treating Lower Back Pain – Home Remedies
Already have lower back pain, or a niggling ache that may develop into pain? This is the time to start with remedies instead of waiting till it becomes worse. Here are some things you can do:
- Use a footrest – a small stool to support your feet will help reduce lower back strain. It helps keep pressure off the back. It can be placed discreetly under your desk and will help prevent foot pain, too.
- Do some stretches – these loosen the muscles and help reduce pain. Some stretches can be done at the desk, other stretches may be done at home, particularly if there is lack of space in the office.
- Invest in a back massager – you can buy a simple one that can be strapped on your chair and has different modes to help you. Or you can buy a smaller massage pillow just for the lower back. These devices feature rolling balls that give pain relief.
- Use heat therapy – this can comprise either a heating pad or a hot water bottle and gives pain relief as it improves blood flow to the area. Avoid using for more than 20 minutes at time. You can alternate this with cold or ice therapy.
- Use a gel, spray or cream to soothe muscles and get pain relief – you can get a number of over the counter products for pain relief. You should apply these once or twice a day for relief. These give symptomatic relief.
- Pain medicines – simple non-steroid pain killers can help with acute episodes of pain. Tylenol or paracetamol, ibuprofen and other remedies, many of them non-prescription (Celebrex,Voltaren, Mobic, Relafen, Advil, Motrin, Nuprin, Aleve) can be taken occasionally but should not be taken habitually.
- Professional massage – this can help in acute episodes and when muscles go into spasm as trigger point therapy releases tight muscles or those that have gone into spasm.
Treating Lower Back Pain – Professional Care
If home remedies do not help you, if you have tried everything, then you should consider seeking professional help and care. Sometimes going to a physiotherapist for a few sessions will help you get over the pain.
Professional physiotherapists know exactly which machines can be effective (ultrasound, IFT or Interferential Therapy, diathermy and others) and which exercises will help you get back to normal. This can be the best investment you make.
Alternative remedies like acupuncture, acupressure, naturopathy or homeopathy can also help with pain relief. Many people also seek chiropractic treatment for lower back pain. Chiropractic treatment involves some degree of spinal manipulation and is not without its risks. As none of these are covered by medical insurance, you may have to spend a great deal for these alternative remedies.
When to Seek Medical Help
All lower back pain may not be a result of faulty sitting postures or sitting for too long in an office chair. You should be aware that some instances of lower back pain have more serious causes that require medical intervention via a diagnosis and the appropriate treatment.
You should seek medical help if the pain has been bothering you for six weeks or more – a spine specialist or orthopedic doctor is probably the right person to guide you. If the pain is severe and is not helped by pain killers and other remedies, you should go to one of these.
Sometimes lower back pain may be caused by other problems or lead to other problems that need specific medical interventions. Some of the disorders include
- Disc degeneration – as the discs lose some cushioning ability, they start rubbing against one another and this can cause a great deal of pain. Often this happens due to age as well.
- Ruptured discs – if the disc starts bulging due to compression, it can lead to acute pain.
- Sciatica – if the sciatic nerve gets compressed, then you can get low back pain that radiates down one buttock and towards the leg, leading to numbness and muscle weakness in the leg.
- Spinal stenosis – if the spinal column narrows it causes additional pressure on the spinal cord and presses against the nerve, resulting in pain.
- Tumor or cyst – if there is a tumor or cyst pressing on the nerves in the spine, you can have back pain.
- Spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis – these come from stress fractures in the spine, usually due to a trauma or injury, particularly in athletes and sports people. Either of these usually occurs in younger people and the pain mimics normal lower back pain, so can be difficult to diagnose without imaging tests.
- Strains – stretching and lifting heavy weights can sometimes cause tears in the ligaments, tendons or muscles and these can take a long time to heal.
- Kidney stone – this can lead to severe back pain, often on one side.
At times the cause of lower back pain may be diseases like arthritis, rheumatism, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, infection or cancer and lower back pain may be one of the symptoms of any of these disorders. While this rarely happens, it is a possibility that should be taken into account.
How to Prevent Lower Back Pain When Using an Office Ergonomic Chair
Sometimes you may not have a choice regarding how long you have to sit. While you can be as active as you have the time for, perhaps be able to get a better chair or use any kind of support for your chair to make it more comfortable, you still have to take a great deal of care.
Here’s what you can do to help prevent lower back pain when using an office chair:
- Move occasionally.
- Stand from time to time.
- Do some stretching exercises – your office chair and desk can actually help with this.
- Make sure that your screen is a few inches above your eyes, to keep your neck in the right position.
- Don’t squint to watch the screen – if required make the fonts bigger or zoom in so that you can see without straining your eyes and your neck.
- Avoid cradling your phone between your ear and the neck. This can also cause neck and back pain. If you must talk on the phone use a hands-free attachment, Bluetooth set or the speaker on your device.
- Stay hydrated as drinking sufficient water is important to keep the blood, nerves and muscles in good condition.
- Be active and don’t rest for long periods of time for backache. If you do so, recovery will be slower and you won’t actually feel better.
- Wear comfortable footwear with proper support. If you must wear heels, keep a pair of comfortable shoes in the office that you can change into.
- Don’t do heavy lifting that can impact your lower back.
- Eat high quality nutritious food.
- Get enough sleep and use the correct kind of mattress that is firm, but with some give.
- Use bio-feedback if you feel occasional twinges.
- Do some mediation or relaxing activities to reduce stress if that is a factor in your back pain.
Don’t live with chronic back pain and on pain killers that have their own side effects. Take steps to get the help you need as lower back pain compromises the quality of life and affects daily activities.