It's the end of another long day at work. You drag yourself to the car and fight your way through traffic to your house. Once you get inside, you wonder how you can have such a massive back ache - after all, you've been sitting at a desk all day, not lifting heavy boxes. Did it ever occur to you your chair may be the problem?
Posture and Your Back
When you were growing up, you learned to turn a deaf ear to your mother and her harping on your posture. If you had a nickel for every time she told you to sit up straight and not slump, you'd be sitting pretty right now. Now that you're grown, you've learned being young equates to being stupid, and you're forced to admit your mother was right more often than she was wrong. News flash: she was right about your posture, too. Improper sitting posture is a prime gateway to chronic back pain. In our technology-driven society, every white collar worker has a computer on their desk. Most office desks were not designed for proper computer posture; the average office worker sits at a forty-five degree angle while working at the computer. If not forty-five degrees, at least fifteen to twenty degrees. Computer work leads to head-forward posture and slumped, forward-posturing shoulders. Poor posture leads to muscle spasms, trigger points, muscle tension migraines, and chronic back pain.
Office furniture is supposedly designed for optimum efficiency during an eight-hour workday. When most office furniture designs were made, computers weren't even a science-fiction idea yet; desks and chairs were designed for paper work, and had extensions for typewriters. The extensions were the proper height for a worker to turn from their desk to the typewriter without having to adjust the chair height, and the keyboard was at the proper level to reduce shoulder strain. Secretarial desks are still designed this way; the typewriter has been replaced by the computer, but the ergonomics still work. Where they don't work is the white collar worker's desk. These desks and chairs are designed for paper work and nothing else. The advent of technology has ushered in the era of a computer on every desk; the result is less area for paper work, causing posture problems as the worker hunches over the paper and works around the keyboard. The height of the desk is not the proper height for someone to work at a keyboard and maintain proper posture; this leads to slumped shoulders, forward head posture, forward-leaning sitting posture and all the attendant problems they bring. The only office chair designed for computer work is the Balans chair - the kneeling chair. A Balans chair tilts the torso slightly forward and puts the weight on the knees. This ensures the spine is kept in its normal S-shaped posture, and eliminates the leaning-forward posture common to regular office chairs.
Posture and Chronic Back Pain
Years of poor posture lead to chronic back pain; as you lean forward to work at your computer on a desk never designed for it, you stress your muscles, especially around your head, neck, and shoulders. You also place stress on your lower lumbar muscles; basically you call on your lower back to support the entire weight of your head, neck and shoulders, instead of your whole back carrying the load. These stressed muscles become inflamed; tissue becomes irritated, and the stress placed on your spinal column will eventually lead to the development of osteoarthritis. This is a heavy price to pay for something relatively inexpensive to correct.
What Do You Do?
Use of a properly designed desk and chair will eliminate the vast majority of poor posture incidences in the American work force. If your employer is not willing to pay for secretarial desks and Balans chairs for his entire office staff, you need to correct the effects of your ergonomics. Get up and walk around at least once an hour. Do stretching exercises regularly, even at your desk. There are Yoga exercises for the head, neck, and shoulder that are easy to do while sitting, and they can reduce the strain on the affected muscles. Pay for a Balans chair yourself - it's between $100.00 and $500.00, well worth the money. When you leave work, do exercises when you get home, to strengthen your lower back muscles, and relieve the strain on the muscles of your head, neck, and shoulders. Take responsibility for your back, and counteract the effects of your poor sitting posture as best you can.
Low back pain fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/health_and_medical/pubs/back_pain.htm. Accessed March 6, 2013.
valuation of neck and back pain. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/sec04/ch041/ch041a.html. Accessed March 6, 2013.
Industrial and shops. Division of Occupational Health and Safety. http://www.ors.od.nih.gov/sr/dohs/HealthAndSafety/Ergonomics/atwork/Page.... Accessed March 7, 2013.