A lot of our friends and family say they regularly experience back pain at the office. It seems that millions of Americans experience the same thing, every day, which is why we started doing some research. This article is the result of that research, providing you with tips and tricks to reduce back pain at work in 2017.
Common Causes of Back Pain
Quite a lot, isn’t it?
That means that if you’re reading this now, there’s a 50-50 chance that you have experienced back pain before or will experience it in the future.
Why is that the case? Why are so many Americans (and other nationalities for that matter) suffering from this annoying discomfort?
Well, there are multiple Causes of Back Pain.
First it’s important to mention that the back is complicated. It consists of muscles, bones, ligaments, cartilage, and more. You can strain or injure every one of these. As such, every one of these may be a cause for back pain.
Back pain can even occur because of other illnesses or injuries. Temporary injuries, such as sports accidents or a bruise can cause back pain. However, chronic diseases such as obesity or arthritis may also play a role.
In short, it’s difficult to point to one cause of back pain, as there are so many.
If we discuss how to reduce back pain at work, however, the main cause of back pain is either stress or improper posture.
Stress as a Cause of Back Pain
Stress has a clear effect on your body. Your hormone level (e.g. adrenaline) may be altered, but what people do not realise is that stress can also affect your muscles.
If you’re stressed, you’re more prone to tense your muscles. In combination with a bad posture or a badly adjusted chair, this may result in back pain.
In addition, if you’re stressed, you may have less time for exercise. Perhaps you don’t have the time to walk around the office to stretch your legs. Or maybe you’re too busy to go to the gym.
As we will discuss later in this article, exercise and changing your sitting position may already have a large impact on the reduction of back pain.
So let us suppose that you’ve handled the stress in your life. You are not too stressed, or have ways (such as yoga, meditation, or simply discussing the difficult parts of your work with your partner) to deal with your stress.
Nonetheless back pain is still an issue for you. What now?
The Best Posture to Reduce Back Pain at Work
Before taking a look at what you can do about the devices that you use throughout the day (your office chair, mouse, keyboard, and more), it is imperative to start with yourself.
How can YOU adjust your posture in order to reduce back pain?
Take a look at this picture.
It must be clear that you have to take into account your chair, your desk, and your height and size.
Sitting in front of your desk, on your favorite chair, you can make sure to acquire a good posture by following these guidelines:
- Feet positioning
- Position your feet in front of you, flat on the floor. Your feet should face forward. The angle between your legs should be natural. Don’t hold your legs together, but leave some space between them. Make sure your knees do not touch. Try to position your legs naturally.
- Leg bend
- Similar to the way you position your knees, you should bend your legs in a natural fashion. Maintain an angle of between 90 and 110 degrees.
- Use the backrest
- We do not want to suggest that you have to press your back INTO the back rest, but you should just make use of it. Provided that you are using a normal office chair, – and not something without a backrest such as a balance ball chair or a kneeling chair – just rest your back gently against the back of the chair. Make sure you’re not slouching. You know if you’re not slouching when your back is fully supported by the back rest (and not just your lower back).
- Position your arms
- The easiest way of positioning your arms well is by making use of the armrest of your chair. Gently lay your arms on the rests so that your arms are slightly lifted and parallel to the floor. The armrests should be on the same level as your desk. In this way you should easily be able to rest your arms on the armrests and your wrists on the desk.
- Relax your shoulders
- If we see someone who has tightly clenched shoulders, we immediately think of someone who’s stressed. And as you saw before, stress can have a serious impact on your back. So whether you’re stressed or not, always relax your shoulders. Note that this gets easier when using armrests.
- Look forward
- As we will discuss at a later section in this article, the top of your screen should be at the same level as your eyes. That means that you should be able to cover the whole screen with your eyes when looking straight forward or a little lower, as illustrated in the picture.
How to Adjust Your Office Chair to Prevent Back Pain
Is that the only thing you have to worry about: your posture?
Well, for some people, a proper posture might be enough to prevent or reduce their back pain. However, most people also need to properly adjust their office chair.
So, how do you adjust your office chair?
As we have discussed elsewhere, ergonomic office chairs have a varying degree of adjustability. This of course also depends on the price. However, with most office chairs you can adjust quite a bit. Even small budget office chairs can be highly adjustable (such as the Alera Elusion).
On that basis, we suggest the following guidelines when checking if your seat is adjusted properly.
- Office Chair Height
- Start by adjusting the height of your office chair. Make sure your arms hang loosely by your sides and put your hands on your keyboard or workstation. There should be a 90-degree angle between your elbows, so that your arms are a natural continuation of your desk. If that’s not the case, adjust the height of your office chair accordingly.
- Backrest/Seat Cushion Horizontal Position
- Press your back against the backrest. There should still be a small gap between your calf and the front of the seat cushion. If the gap is too big (larger than your fist) or too small (non-existent), you have a few choices. Higher-end office chairs come with a backrest or a seat cushion that is horizontally adjustable. In this way you can essentially make the surface of your seat cushion smaller and ensure the right ‘gap size’. However, if your office chair does not have this feature, check if you can acquire additional lumbar support to increase the gap size. If that is not possible or if this gap between the cushion and your calf is too big, think about purchasing a new office chair that better fits your body.
- Backrest Vertical Position (height)
- Make sure the back rest fully supports the lower and middle part of your back. Most office chairs have some kind of cushion or extra thickness (i.e. lumbar support) that forces your back in a small arch. Ensure that this back support is placed appropriately and feels comfortable. If you’re quite tall, you might need to adjust the backrest a bit upward so that the lumbar support fits into your lower back.
- Backrest Angle/Tilt
- Again, not all office chairs have this feature, but if yours does, make sure to adjust the backrest angle. Generally we suggest a tilt of around 90-110 degrees, somewhat leaning back. However, make sure to check what feels best for you. Note that this also depends on the work that you do; if you have to draw or sketch you might not want to recline at all, since you have to lean forward.
- Armrest Height and Position
- As mentioned before, your armrest should be on approximately the same height as your workstation. However, make sure to not fully rest your arms on the armrests; wikiHow suggests that the armrests should just barely touch your elbows.
- Other adjustments
- There are chairs which you can adjust ’till eternity. Think of the Embody by Herman Miller for instance. Depending on the chair you have, there are varying degrees of adjustability, which we just want to quickly mention here. For instance, some chairs have an adjustable chair recline tilt, a seat angle tilt, armrest horizontal swivel, armrest width, lumbar support depth and position, headrest height, and more. Should you have a chair that supports one or all of these features, make sure to adjust them to really fit your body so that you can sit at your desk for long periods of time without aches or pain.
Additional Lumbar Support for Back Pain
If you’ve followed these two guides to proper posture and office chair adjustment, you may still find that you’re not sitting comfortably. There might be a variety of causes, including a bad body-chair fit, your chair is (still) not adjusted well, or you might have a cheap office chair that doesn’t provide enough back and lumbar support.
If that is the case, you may want to consider buying additional lumbar support. Sure, if you have one of the office chairs out of this list, you should not have to worry.
However, for some people extra lumbar support might still be a good choice.
Another option might be to buy an additional cushion to sit on. We’ve noticed that with some low-budget office chairs, the seat cushions tend to show signs of wear and tear after a year or so. If you feel that you’re seat cushion is not adequate, try to get it replaced or buy an additional cushion.
We have yet to write a full review of best lumbar support pillows and best additional seat cushions. Stay tuned, but for now we would recommend one of Amazon’s best sellers, such as:
- Everlasting Comfort Lumbar Support Pillow (lumbar support), or the
- Comfilife Memory Foam Cushion (seat cushion)
Computer placement & peripherals
This picture should make it clear. It’s important to know about posture and a great office chair. However, if you want to reduce back pain at work, properly setting up the devices that you use daily is crucial.
This begins, of course, with your screen. If you use a computer (laptop or desktop), make sure your eyes are level with the top of your screen. Adjust the height of your screen accordingly.
Are you tall and is your screen not positioned well? Grab some old books from a shelf nearby! If you have a permanent desk, you can use these books to support your computer screen. This way, you’ll still be able to work well and reduce back pain whenever possible.
If you use a laptop, things are a little different. Generally you can’t adjust a laptop’s screen height. This means that it is smart to invest in a laptop stand or a laptop docking station (including a monitor), especially if you use your laptop daily. Note that this also means you need an additional keyboard, mouse, and mousepad.
Last, if you’re suffering from tennis elbow, wrist aches, or any other arm-related pains, check out the thousands of available wrist pads. There are wrist pads for your computer mouse and for your keyboard. Some keyboards and computer mouses even have wrist pads built in, which makes it extra convenient.
Changing Posture and Back Pain Exercises
Last but not least, if you want to prevent or reduce back pain, it is crucial that you keep moving. Sitting in the same chair in the same posture for several hours will have a negative effect on your body.
Increase blood flow and relax your muscles from time to time by stretching, walking around, or just switching your sitting posture slightly.
Even standing up and sitting down every once in a while may help with reducing back pain!
And if that doesn’t work, you can always think of doing some ‘deskercises’. WebMD wrote about 12 exercises that you can do behind your desk, which we wholeheartedly recommend.
You can also reduce back pain at work by doing one of the exercises in the image that we found, below. We’ve found these to be excellent exercises that are not only good for your back, but for your whole body in general.