When your back is aching, it’s not funny. Whether your discomfort is localised to a stiff neck, lower back ache or shooting sciatica pain, or you have more general postural pain, it stops you from fully physically functioning.
You may be surprised to hear that back pain is one of the most common reasons for sickness absence. This can be a major issue for many businesses.
In fact, if you’re sitting at your desk now, you may like to take a moment to inspect your office chair and immediate workstation. Are you sitting comfortably? Does your back feel any stress at all when you sit like you normally do? Your desk posture has a major effect on various aspects of your health, especially the condition of your neck, shoulders and back.
Ask your employer to investigate ergonomic office chairs. When used properly, these can help maximise back support and maintain good posture while you’re sitting at your desk for long periods of time. Ergonomic chairs need to be set up for your individual physical dimensions to ensure that you are optimally supported. It is the interplay between desk height, chair height and support for your individual physique that will determine its usefulness.
Oftentimes, back pain isn’t just due to bad posture. Many people experience back pain as a result of incorrect exercise or physical injury or serious medical conditions. Back pain can also be caused and certainly exacerbated by excess body weight. If you are not sure why you are having problems with your back, your first port of call should be a medical practitioner.
For chronic back pain, you may benefit from a consultation with a spinal health therapist, such as an osteopath, physiotherapist or chiropractor. He may be able to help with a treatment and/or specific exercises that are designed to get you started back on the road to recovery.
Assuming that there is no specific medical condition needing attention, it’s a good idea to take a look at your lifestyle. How much of the day do you spend sitting down? If you have a desk job, it is important to get up and stretch your body at least once every hour.
Are you exercising for the recommended minimum of 30 minutes every day? To stretch your back muscles and keep them active, there’s no need to join a gym or football team. Getting more exercise can be as simple as walking to/from work.
Especially if you are overweight, you really should increase your level of physical activity to lose the excess weight and the extra stress it places on your body generally, and your back in particular.
In order to stretch your body, improve flexibility and blood circulation to all parts of your body, you may like to consider joining a Pilates or Yoga class a couple of times a week (or more!). Take a look at what is available in your neighbourhood and ask to attend a taster class to see if it is suitable for your condition and if you would enjoy taking part.
At home, a great technique to alleviate back pain is to lie with a tennis ball underneath you, rolling the ball gently around the affected area to gently stretch and relax the muscles.
If you’ve got into the habit of sleeping in an unhealthy position, this may lead to back pain over time. In fact, experts now agree that sleeping on your back is not the best position. Instead, to support the natural curvature of your spine, you are advised to sleep on your side with your knees bent, placing a pillow between your legs, if necessary, for extra comfort.
Acute pain relief
For symptomatic pain relief, you may need to resort to short-term use of non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen that are commonly available over the counter. Make sure you read the accompanying leaflet first.
Ice packs are typically recommended to reduce swelling and inflammation, especially as a first aid measure. Hot baths are more helpful for deeper (and older) injuries. If you’re not sure, do check with your therapist or doctor and follow their recommendations.
By Dakota Murphey, former-office worker and now freelance journalist working with Corrigo Design, the UK’s innovative back care chair specialist.