3 ways to avoid damaging your lower back at work

The cost of lower back pain in Australian adults in 2001 was around 9 billion dollars.

This includes the ‘direct’ cost of treatment from chiropractors, medical doctors, physiotherapists, etc, as well as the ‘indirect’ costs of time off work, medication side effects, secondary health issues and more.

Much of this can be attributed to what you do at work. In this article, we’ll look at some the ways you can prevent back injury at work and save yourself a huge amount of money, time and pain.

We see hundreds of people every year at Canberra Spine Centre who have spinal damage that is at least partly due to their poor work station set up.

When you consider how many hours you spend at your desk each week, it’s no wonder that a poor set-up can cause so much damage.

#1 The Right Office Chair Can Make All the Difference

Poor posture resulting from a poorly suited office chair places undue stress on elements of your spine.

This can be anything from muscle fatigue and damage related to the constant strain of maintaining a bad position through to disc damage caused by accumulated load over long periods on the discs of your lumbar spine.

So let’s look at what you need in an office chair to help you prevent lower back problems.

Here are the things to make sure you’ve got right:

  • The seat part (the bit you sit on) of your office chair needs to be the right size to give you the right support. If it is too large, this can prevent you from being able to push your bottom right to the back of the chair, and result in poor posture. If it is too small (for taller people), this won’t support your thighs and weight properly, so you’ll transfer some of this weight through to your lumbar spine. Either way, you will be loading your lumbar spine in a way that can cause damage, injury and pain in the medium to long term.
  • The seat should be height adjustable, to a range that allows you to sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor. In this position, your thighs should be parallel to the floor, and the angle at your hips, knees and ankles should be 90 degrees. When you are supported in this position, forces from sitting can be dispersed more effectively so that they don’t accumulate only in the lumbar spine and cause damage and pain.
  • The back rest should also be adjustable so that it fits in the small of your back (where the curve is). This allows the best rest to do its job – support your lower back. This adjustment should be vertical (up and down) as well as back and forth. Ideally, there should also be adjustment of the amount it can flex back and forth. This allows for different postures to be adopted throughout the day – more upright at times and lounging back at others. See ‘change your posture’ below.

#2 Set Your Workstation to Your Chair

Now that you have your chair in the right place, it’s time to get the rest right. Starting with your chair position means that you are in a comfortable position that puts the least stress on your lower back.

At Canberra Spine Centre, we see many people who make the mistake of starting at the other end – setting up the desk and monitor and then trying to fit their chair position last.

If you do this, you will end up putting yourself in a position that causes accumulation of stress and damage every minute at your workstation.

Here is what you need to do to have the rest of your workstation positioned to reduce the risk of lower back injury:

  • The desk height should be adjustable. If your desk height cannot be changed, you may want to consider buying an add-on sit-stand desk top. This allows you to change the height of your whole desk top to any height you like.
  • Adjust the desk height so that when you are sitting in your preferred position, your elbows are at 90 degrees and your forearms are parallel to the floor with your hands at the keyboard.
  • Your monitor height should be adjustable. If not, a simple solution is to place a stand underneath to raise it to the right height. The height of your monitor should be adjusted so that your eyeline falls between the middle and top of the screen.

#3Change Your Posture Regularly to Save Your Back

Now you have your chair and your workstation both set right for optimum loading of your spine while seated. This might be called the ‘perfect posture’, but really, when it comes to sitting, there is no such thing.

In fact, any posture sustained for long periods without a break will cause accumulation of stress in the body and result in damage when done repeatedly over a long period.

This is because sustained loads on the body eventually stretch and damage the connective tissue holding you together.

In the spine, this is the discs, tendons, ligaments, joint capsules and fascia, all being damaged by staying in the one place too long every day.

The solution? Change your posture frequently!

Here are some easy ways to do this:

  • Get up and stretch regularly – every 20 – 30 minutes. Stand up and stretch up toward the ceiling and take a few breaths, then sit down again after about 30 seconds.
  • Go for a quick walk to get a glass of water, or chat to a colleague. Chatting face to face will not only save your back but will make you happier and more effective at work.
  • Try a sit-stand desk. There are several relatively low-cost options on the market now that can be fitted to your existing desk. Just be sure to change from sitting to standing at least every hour, if not more often.

Setting up your chair first, then your workstation, and making sure you move around will alter the loads on your lower back and help you reduce the chance of injury.

Call (02) 6257 9400 or visit 7 Macpherson St in O’Connor.