Solving Back Pain at Work
I’ve had plenty of people come to me with lower back pain, mostly due to the number of hours they spend sitting at a desk. In some cases, people are also experiencing back problems from standing, despite the ergonomics of a stand-up desk. No remedy will be the same for everyone because there are so many things that could be going on in your spine, but I’m going to tackle a few generalities.
First off, identify where in your back the pain is coming from. “Back Pain” is often a catch-all for spine pain, scapula pain, neck pain, one side of the lower back pain, and glute maximus pain (to mention a few). Where is your back pain coming from? Is it in your spine? Off to one side of the lower back? At the top of your butt? Behind your shoulders? Your neck (and you’re suffering from headaches?).
The starting point for most of these is the same. You should begin a daily routine of (if you are currently in pain you should see your doctor – most of the below is meant for prevention and maintenance):
- General mobilization (moving your joints through their full range of motion)
- Myofascial release (rolling with a ball, roller, etc.)
- Refinement (using band distractions or loaded movements to gain more range of motion)
- Strength and Stability (completing exercises to strengthen weak muscles that aren’t being utilized correctly anymore)
- Stretching (via PNF or static holds)
Using the above technique might help resolve back pain for a little while but think of it like putting a Band-Aid on a cut – it will help stop the bleeding, but it doesn’t get rid of the problem that caused the cut.
Let’s look at three common reasons your back is hurting and how to address the real problem.
Reason: You stand up or sit too much. Yes, standing and moving is great for you. But if you’re always standing, chances are you will slouch or stop holding yourself up properly and that will cause a lot of problems. Most people don’t have the core strength to maintain standing straight up for hours at a time. Sitting is okay sometimes but without moving enough, you’ll probably slouch, or your pelvis will get locked into posterior tilt, causing your hip flexors to shorten and hamstrings to extend – more trouble.
Solution: A study conducted at Hiroshima University looked at the maximum amount of time people can be productive before needing a break (a similar study was completed at the University of Illinois and University of Amsterdam and found very similar results). The top performers were capable of lasting 50 minutes before they had a drop in productivity. That means if you set a timer and sit for 25 minutes, then stand for 25 minutes (or variations of the above), then take a break and walk around and move your body through good ranges of motion, you’ll reduce stiffening up, which is a big part of back pain anywhere in your back, and your productivity at work will probably go up.
Reason: Your support muscles are weak. You can take 5 – 10-minute breaks and move around, but if your muscles are weak, especially the small supporting muscles, you’re going to be back in pain.
Solution: The support exercises you do are dependant on where your pain is located. But generally, you can complete shoulder angels against a wall for scapular strength, plank hold for core strength and one leg bridges for glute strength. At first you might find it difficult to contract the proper muscles but keep thinking about them. Over time you will build better proprioception (mind and muscle connection).
Reason: You don’t know how to sit and/or stand straight, or you move incorrectly in day to day life.
Solution: Have your posture checked out make sure your pelvis isn’t in a posterior or anterior tilt, which will cause your spine to be in flexion or hyperextension. Also make sure your shoulders aren’t protracted (rotated forward). Find someone who can show you waiters bows, bear holds and neutral spine position. These exercises will re-enforce good spine position and aid in your recovery over time. You should learn all about proper squatting, deadlifting and basic movement technique to maintain good spinal positions most of the time.