Mind Your Spine


Health in the workplace needs to change

How many hours do you think you sit, stand or kneel at work? Now think about how many hours you sit in your car, sit while you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, sit when you are relaxing at home?

While millions of people in the workforce are required to sit for extended periods of time, what they don’t realize is just how detrimental the act of sitting all day is to the neck, spine and overall body. Can something as basic as sitting cause back pain? Yes. When you sit day after day, you train your connecting tissue (which supports and binds all other tissues in the body) to hold the body in this shortened state. Your back muscles get strained; your hip and hamstring muscles become tight, shortened and weak. And regardless of the pain sitting creates, a sedentary culture connected to their keyboards has emerged which is slowly taking a toll on our health and wellness.

Buying the right chair or desk may relieve some low back pain but you can avoid low back problems altogether by preventing strain on your neck, back and body. Prevent back pain strain by learning and applying the proper way to lift and carry objects, pushing–not pulling–heavy objects, wearing supportive flat or low-heeled shoes and exercising regularly.

Rule 1

Seating. Ergonomic seating doesn’t make for ergonomic posture. Seating is but one small part of the head-back-body equation. Position yourself when you are seated so that your head is over your body. If your spinal alignment is compromised due to years of poor seating posture you probably have lost some of your natural curvature and will require some lower back support equipment like a small rolled up towel, a back cushion, or 9” flexible ball like a Bender or Pilates Stability Ball, and place it behind your waistline. This will help curve your back inward, toward your belly button.  Look for chairs with dynamic features, like those made by Humanscale Freedom and Steelcase Leap, or chairs for more active seating like CoreChair. Avoid using an exercise ball or any kind of athletic resist-a-ball for long periods due to lack of support and instability.

Rule 2

Practice mental cues. Give yourself the mental cue throughout the day to “Sit-up tall” as you find yourself tired, slumping or slouching. Practice sitting up tall by pretending your nipples are headlights and try to keep them pointing up. Get into the correct posture by squeezing your shoulder blades together then drop them down behind you as if to place them in your back pockets, now lengthen the neck by raising your chin and bring the head back as if smelling something really bad.

Rule 3

Search out some small apparatus like the Power Systems Versa disc (a small air cushion used for balance training), and sit on it for brief periods of time at your desk, in your car, at home having dinner, or watching TV. This will help your core throughout the day.

Increase your lower body movement while sitting; consider a foot-operated movable footrest like the Humanscale Ergo Foot-Rocker or the Lorell Ergonomic Rocking Footrest – or even an under-the-desk portable bike pedal like DeskCycle.

Rule 4

Try periods of sit-stand working. If you have a fixed-height desk, consider using a retrofit product like the Ergotron WorkFit, which turns it into a sit-stand desk and provides adjustability for different body heights – or just replace that desk. Choose a desk that allows for an easy transition from sitting to standing. Look at the Evodesk, Eureka Ergonomic, and IKEA. They all make electric, height-adjustable desks. Then there is Workrite Ergonomics and others who have models that don’t need to be plugged in.

Rule 5

Stretching and strengthening exercises decrease muscle imbalances in the back and strengthen the muscles that support the spine. Regular physical activity keeps your body healthy by promoting good blood flow, muscle activation, and neural activity. Regular stretching and exercise will reduce tension and movement restriction, which will keep you in shape.

Rule 6

Check and correct your posture.  Whether it is seating, walking, running, golfing, playing tennis or other activities, proper biomechanics (the way you move your body) is key to keeping your fascia/connecting tissue healthy. If you have poor posture and weak stabilizing muscles, that will eventually cause the micro traumas that hurt your body. These distortions can cause poor blood flow, weaker nerve impulses, limited flexibility and range of motion, and a host of other ailments.

Rule 7

Move. Up your activity by following a 20-minute program sitting, 8 minutes standing, 2 minutes stretching. Get an Apple Watch or other activity tracker that reminds you to stand and move at or around work area.