From disease to genetic conditions to traumatic spinal injuries, the list of possible back problems is long. But sometimes, the culprit is far simpler — your posture.
These days, with so many computer-based jobs and so many people working, shopping, and conducting daily business in front of a screen, we see a lot of office-related back pain here at American Rehabilitation Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
And with the pandemic, we see more and more home-office-related back problems. People are working from their couch, their recliner, at their kitchen table, and even while in bed. So, Dr. Stanley Mathew, our board-certified physiatrist and pain medicine specialist, advises our patients on how to configure their office spaces for optimal back health.
Sit up straight
Poor posture has the power to make an eight-hour shift feel like an eternity and have you hobbling home at the end of the day. That’s because when you slouch, lean forward, or keep your neck at an awkward angle for hours, you put tremendous stress on your spine.
Over time, too much stress causes inflammation that compresses nearby nerves. Slumping also calls on your muscles to work harder than they should and do things they don’t normally do.
So sitting up straight is the first order of business. Position your monitor at eye level, so you don’t have to bend your neck up or down to view it. That may mean raising or lowering your chair, or putting your computer on a platform.
You can also download an app on your phone that reminds you to adjust your posture regularly throughout the day.
Use a chair
This is a new one. We’ve always reminded our patients that a proper desk chair is important, one that allows you to keep both feet flat on the floor and your thighs parallel to each other and the floor.
But with so many people working from home, it’s become necessary to stress the importance of an actual chair. Lying on the sofa or in bed as you type away may feel luxurious and comfortable at first, but working in this position day after day throws your spine out of alignment and strains your muscles and ligaments.
Put your keyboard and mouse in the right place
The best way to keep your spine healthy despite your desk job is to find and maintain your body’s natural position. This means your shoulders should be relaxed, your elbows at your side, your fingers resting at a slightly forward and downward angle, and your keyboard about two inches above your lap.
Your mouse should be within reach and shouldn’t put your wrist or hand at an odd angle or uncomfortable height.
The new trend in office furniture, standing desks, is all the rage, but it’s not just a fad. Standing while you work is a great way to maintain good posture, increase blood flow, and preserve your back.
If you don’t have a standing desk, you can DIY it. Many people raise their desks by adding a platform underneath — the risers meant for bed frames work well. If you can’t raise your desk, you can raise your monitor by placing a sturdy box under it.
Even if there’s no way to raise your desk or your monitor, standing up and walking around at regular intervals is key to your back health. Once an hour (yes, set an alarm), get up from your chair and reach for the ceiling, then touch your toes. It only takes a minute or two, but your back and brain will thank you.
When your office is killing your back
If you’re reading this a little too late, and your office configuration has already given you an achy back, Dr. Mathew can help.
Depending on what damage has been done, he starts by getting your back back in shape. He teaches you about proper posture, gives you some very effective exercises and stretches, and encourages you to strengthen your core muscles, which support your torso and prevent excess stress on your spine. Other treatments, like hot and cold therapy and therapeutic massage, can also relax your muscles and relieve your pain.
If your office situation has resulted in compressed nerves, damaged discs, or other injuries, Dr. Mathew may suggest safe and temporary anti-inflammatory drugs or pain medications, or even epidural steroid or joint injections.
If you want to know more about how to keep your back healthy at work or how to relieve an already achy back, give us a call at 319-369-7331, or request an appointment online today.