Back pain that is worse at certain times of day or week (such as after a long day in front of a computer); pain that starts in the neck and moves downward into the upper back, lower back and extremities; pain that goes away after switching positions while sitting or standing; sudden back pain that is experienced with a new job, a new chair, a new car; and/or back pain that comes and goes for months.
Over time, poor posture such as slouching, looking at the computer screen at a wrong angle, or standing for long periods of time, may cause back, neck and shoulder pain. However, factors affecting posture and ergonomics are mostly within one’s ability to control and are not difficult to change. The following tips could help to improve posture and resolve ergonomic issues, especially for people sitting most of the day in an office chair.
• Get up and move: As muscles tire, slouching, slumping, and other poor postures become more likely; this in turn puts extra pressure on the neck and back. To maintain a relaxed yet supportive posture, change positions frequently. One way is to take a break from sitting every hour or so for few minutes in order to stretch, stand, or walk.
• Keep the body in alignment while sitting or standing: Distribute body weight evenly to the front, back, and sides of the feet while standing. Sit up straight and align the ears, shoulders, and hips in one vertical line. Any single position, even a good one, will be tiring. Leaning forward with a straight back can alternate with sitting back, using the back support of the chair to ease the work of back muscles. Also be aware of and avoid unbalanced postures such as crossing legs unevenly while sitting, leaning to one side, hunching the shoulders forward or tilting the head.
• Use posture-friendly props and ergonomic office chairs when sitting: Supportive ergonomic “props” can help to take the strain and load off of the spine. Chairs with an adjustable back support should be used. Footrests, portable lumbar back supports, and a towel or small pillow can be used while sitting in an office chair or while driving. Using devices designed to minimize back strain can also promote good posture. Proper corrective eyewear and positioning computer screens to your natural, resting eye position help to avoid straining the neck.
• Increase awareness of posture and ergonomics in everyday settings: Being aware of posture and ergonomics at work, home, and play is a vital step toward instilling good posture and ergonomic techniques. This includes making conscious connections between episodes of back pain and specific situations where poor posture or ergonomics may be the root cause of the pain.
• Use exercise to help prevent injury and promote good posture: Regular exercise such as walking, swimming, or bicycling will help the body stay aerobically conditioned, while specific strengthening exercises will help the muscles surrounding the back to stay strong. Exercise promotes good posture, which will, in turn, further help to condition muscles and prevent injury. There are also specific exercises that will help maintain good posture.
• Wear supportive footwear when standing: Avoid wearing high-heeled shoes regularly, which can affect the body’s center of gravity and change the alignment of the entire body, negatively affecting back support and posture. When standing for long periods of time, placing a rubber mat on the floor can improve comfort.
• Remember good posture and ergonomics when in motion: Walking, lifting heavy materials, holding a telephone, and typing are all moving activities that require attention to ergonomics and posture. It is important to maintain good posture even while moving to avoid injury. Back injuries are especially common while twisting and/or lifting and often occur because of awkward movement and control of the upper body weight alone.
• Create ergonomically positive environments and workspaces: A small investment of time is required to personalize the workspace, home, and car, but the payoff will be well worth it. Undue strain will be placed on the structures of the spine unless the chair, desk, keyboard, and computer screen, etc. are properly positioned.