Back pain is one of the most common ailments that people all around the world suffer from. The pain is as varied as the causes. Some women, for example, experience back pain so severe that their breast reduction is considered a medical expense instead of a cosmetic choice, while other women find their periods have created a mild soreness in the center of their back. Men also suffer greatly from back pain, with previous back injuries taking a lot of the blame for continuing issues.
Age also has a bit to do with it; as Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio states in why he no longer plays My Standard Break From Life live, once you hit your late thirties, back pain is so prevalent that the lyrics “At only [insert the age Skiba is currently] it’s not attractive to complain about your sore back.” In fact, there are chiropractors out there that have managed to make their career with back and neck realignments only.
One of the most obvious causes of back pain is one that we have been warned about many times before, and is right in front of our noses. We have had it ingrained into our minds since we were young to sit up straight, and it turns out that our parents had good reason as to why they were not going to let that go. Still, we slouch, we lean back in our chairs, we sit for far too long. While it feels a bit more comfortable in the short-term, we are doing a lot more damage to ourselves in the long run.
Chairs often do not change their shape from its original concept for a reason. You have a place to sit with a little bit of back support, and your feet can be placed comfortably on the ground in front of you. Some have handy arm rests, some even make sure that you can place your feet properly by adjusting the height of your chair. If you are forced to sit at your desk for hours at end, picking your chair is one of the most important investments that you are going to make for office ergonomics, so while they are seeming to be made equal on the surface, selecting a chair can be one of the harder decisions to pull off for multiple people. Much like beds, the personal needs for a chair can vary greatly.
But what are we supposed to be looking for in a chair? Why is a chair not simply a chair, and what exactly makes for a favorite chair? Have you thought about this at all?
The issue with back pain is that not sitting properly will bring a variety of issues. For example, proper posture while sitting require no lumbar support. When you slouch forward, you are exercising your lumbar region in a way, forcing the muscles to go in a way that they are not used to. By maintaining your slouching position, it’s the same as holding a position while you’re exercising, and this will result in a sore back that will ache for days afterward. The only problem with this is that as you hold your slouching position, your lumbar region is not getting the oxygen and blood circulation that it needs to repair itself until you stand back up, prevent the muscle from toning itself and getting stronger. The easiest way for handling this back pain would be to sit up straight, but if your chair is not fit to suit your needs, you’ll find yourself shifting more often to get comfortable as your day goes on, which will make your efforts to prevent back pain a lot more difficult than it has to be.
Shopping For The Perfect Chair To Reduce Your Back Pain
Before you learn how to prevent back pain while sitting, you should learn what you’re looking for in a chair that you will be spending lots of time in. First, you need to consider what the chair is going to be used for. If you are spending a lot of time on the computer, you will need an office chair that will offer you some freedom of movement before you are done. If you are an avid gamer who does not follow the warnings to get up and move every hour (and nobody actually does), there are specially designed gamer chairs that will curl into your back so that you can lean forward comfortably, placed low to the ground so that you can place your legs however you are most comfortable.
If you are just lounging around, watching TV or reading a book, there are cushy living chairs that will ensure your comfort, as you are not likely to get up for quite some time, and companies such as Lay-Z Boy are aware that you need to have a great amount of support for these longer sessions.
Once you have selected what kind of chair you are shopping for, consider the level of cushion that you will need to sit comfortably for an hour or so. Like mattresses, this is not an objective thing. Some people need lots of cushion, and others will need a lot less. When you are sitting up properly, the curve of your back will not be touching the back of your chair, but your shoulder blades will, so you should pick a chair that will offer the proper support for this area of your back. While it may be tempting to get a chair with a lower back, those tend to be for the people who sit most comfortably with the bottom of their shoulder blades touching the spot of support only, as there are problems with receiving too much support as well.
Your feet should be able to touch the floor without any issue, the bottom of your feet flat against the floor. From there, it’s a matter of comfort where they land, whether it be closed, slightly apart, or wide open. You don’t want your legs spread wide enough that you feel it in your hips, but sitting with your legs slightly apart is typically the most comfortable for everybody.
If you are sitting at a computer (which is where most people get their back injuries when they are sitting for extended periods of time), you want to be able to look straight, the top of your monitor at eye level, and your keyboard at the edge of your desk, and you are just far enough out to straighten your wrists and curl your fingers over the keyboard. While you are emulating this position when shopping for your chair, ask yourself if you can maintain this position comfortably for an hour. If you can, this is a good chair for you. Keep in mind that you ought to stand up and stretch every hour and give your back a break, no matter how comfortable you think you are. There are very few things more uncomfortable than discovering that your rear end has fallen asleep, and when you force yourself to sit longer than it can handle, you will find yourself shifting to find more comfortable positions, which will damage you further in the long run.
Common Back Injuries From Sitting And How To Prevent Them
It probably sounds a little silly to hear that you can injure yourself just by sitting down and not moving much, but ask any secretary, executive assistant, or typist that you know, and they will tell you all about carpal tunnel and back pain that they received from working. It’s interesting because these are generally viewed as some of the safest jobs on the market, and yet their injuries can get so severe that they need chiropractors or even surgery to treat their injuries.
The common issues with those who are sitting for extended periods of time or in the wrong position can be broken down into three categories: lower back pain, spinal injury, and shoulder and neck pain. All of these issues are problematic and can cause mild to extreme discomfort.
As mentioned above, lower back pain is usually associated with slouching. Your lumbar region is the small of your back to the top of your buttocks. By slouching into your chair, you are putting your body weight on to your tail bone, which was designed for balance, and stretching your lumbar in a way that it is not supposed to go, effectively exercising it for an extended period of time with little break in between so that it can rest. This causes mild soreness at first, but the pain can compound as you spend more and more time in that position until you are in a great amount of pain. You can, in theory, tear the muscles this way, and it has happened before, and it’s going to happen again. This and shoulder and neck pain make up the widest amounts of injury to your back from working that desk job, so it’s important to figure out how to manage it.
In chairs where you have no say in the purchase (your chair at work, for example), you are likely to find that it’s fairly uncomfortable and in order to prevent lower back pain, you will need to make a few changes to it. Most offices nowadays will have a chair you can adjust the height of, and that should be taken full advantage of. With your feet flat on the floor, you should keep your ankles, knees, and hips in angles that are as close to 90 degrees as you can make them. If the seat of the chair is not as comfortable as you would like it, consider going to the store and purchasing something like a throw pillow or a specifically designed cushion to give you a little bit more support. You should also make use of the swivel in your swivel chair, as it was designed to prevent uncomfortable reaching, which will also put some access tension on to your lower back. The small of your back is also a bit of a canary for the rest of your back, and will start to hurt before the rest of your back if you have been sitting for too long. The key is to pay attention to it, and when it begins to ache, be sure to stand up, walk around, and stretch. The usual recommended time to take these breaks is a three- to five-minute break for every hour that you’ve been sitting. If you are not able to take a break by standing up, there are a few exercises out there that will relieve your back while still sitting. A favorite is to sit up as straight as possible and slowly rotate your upper body, as if you are trying to look behind you in either direction, about five or ten times. This should realign your lumbar region and give it a little break that it deserves if you typically slouch backward. You can also push away from your desk and reach down to grab the tips of your toes, holding the position for a few seconds, and then slowly bring yourself back up into a proper sitting position. Still, it’s even better to get up and stretch if you need it.
In contrast, slouching forward can bring about neck and shoulder pain. This is not a hard and fast rule, because certain people have been able to injure their backs in the opposite directions, depending on where the pressure tends to end up. For many, though, when they slouch forward, they will naturally push their shoulders forward and get themselves in a position that requires they lift their head into an unnatural angle, causing their shoulders to compensate for the support of the delicate neck, which typically does not have the muscle required to hold that position for long. It’s not uncommon for people who slouch forward to tilt their heads after a while, resting their neck on a shoulder to assure they can hold the position for a little while longer.
The best way to prevent shoulder and neck pain is simply to sit up properly. If your work station has been set up as you have imagined it when you were shopping for a chair, keeping this position will feel natural. You are doing it correctly if your shoulders are located directly over your hips, your shoulder blades resting against the back of your chair. Since the contact with the chair is a minimal thing, there is not much on the chair that you are forced to deal with at work that you can do. A good way to keep your neck and shoulders from getting injured is to stretch them out when you stretch your lumbar area. Roll your shoulders and rotate your neck. The advantage to this is that you can do this discreetly in between breaks, and you should do them as often as you feel that you need to do them. The neck is an extremely sensitive area of the body, and if it gets a muscle tear, it can be a paralyzingly painful situation and will require a trained professional to fix it back up. If you want to get technical, the neck is so sensitive that a “knot” in the muscle may start causing your neck to seize, and that sounds like a perfect reason to get regular chair massages at your local spa. In fact, go ahead and make this a monthly treat for yourself, as one of the best measures to take against back pain, especially in the neck and shoulders, is to get massages. They are trained professionals, after all, and they know what to feel for in case something had gone terribly wrong. When you are sitting for extended periods of time for your job, this is not a luxury expense, even if it will certainly feel like one, because you are doing some major preventative care that may save you thousands of dollars for chiropractic work (which is decidedly not as luxurious feeling) in the long run.
Spinal injury is a lot rarer than the other two back problems, but it is serious enough that you do not want to risk it in the first place. What happens is that when you are not sitting with your back straight (usually by slouching backward, as it’s easier to keep a back straight when you are leaning forward), you can do anything from slipping a disc or vertebrae out of place to getting it accustomed to being in the wrong spot, which will create tension as you move (this is why after sitting for an extended period of time, your back will crack when you stretch upward, since that should naturally help realign it). This could go anywhere from mild discomfort straight into calling into work because you can’t get out of bed due to the pain.
There are quite a few things that you can do to prevent this expensive, painful problem from happening to you. Ladies might have it a little easier, as one of the simplest ways to keep your back straight is to invest in a steel bone corset. Nowadays, corsets can fit quite comfortably, be worn under clothes or over clothes, and tend to be a little bit of a confidence booster, which improves the quality of their work and general productivity. Men can of course get a corset, but due to the masculine shape, it might be more beneficial to find a good back brace, which covers the shape better and supports men at a different angle, which they do need to accommodate their much-different-than-women’s’ muscle distribution.
A cheaper, but less discreet option is one that any fan of Hitchhiker’s Guide will already know: Bring a towel to work. Not only should you always bring your towel, but a rolled up one is the perfect size to stick behind your back to assure that you do not slouch backward and risk your spine slipping out of place. All you have to do is sit down with the towel already rolled up so that the shorter end is the length, and place it at the small of your back, right above your hips, and use your body to hold it in place while you work. Some people also claim that this is good for the lumbar area, so it’s worth a try if you don’t have the money to invest in a back brace or a good corset. It’s commonplace enough that nobody will make fun of you for it, and it’s a cheap prevention method for a rather expensive problem, so what’s not to like? Stretching will also do wonders, so don’t forget your break!