Monday, 19 March 2012

Low Back Pain From Sitting

A Bodybilt ergo chair

This post is in response to a reader’s question about low back pain from sitting in a low-tech office chair.

I’ve done a lot of work in that area. The first question I’d ask upon meeting you is – “Have you checked with a doctor to see whether there might be another reason for the pain?”

If you’re sure then the next logical step is an assessment of your workstation. For this, I would invite an ergonomics professional or a nurse into the solution. That is if your company keeps one on the payroll.

If not, we can try a brief assessment on our own.

Martial art training teaches us that the body as a structure is all about balance and alignment.  The left side of the body must be in alignment with the right side. The head, neck and shoulders must be balanced with the lower back and the hips. In turn, the hips must be aligned with the knees and the feet. And so on.

While you work, is the back of the head in relaxed alignment with the lower back? Leaning the head too far forward tenses up the neck and shoulders which can result in lower back pain.

This is a problem with laptops, iPads and cell phones: we’re constantly gazing down at the screen. When ergo studies were first done on desktop screens, it was advised that the eyes be in alignment with the top of the screen. That position prevented a lot of shoulder and back pain issues!

It also allowed for the classic workstation posture – back of head comfortably aligned with the lower part of the spine (along the 7 curves of the spine); the ears in line with the sides of the shoulders; the elbows placed back far enough to be aligned with the shoulders; the top of the arms in line with the top of the wrists and back of the hands.

We experienced some fairly wicked arm issues (carpal tunnel syndrome; tennis elbow; etc.) from a lack of proper shoulder-elbow-wrist alignment. Everyone was reaching for a mouse or keyboarding way beyond the body’s core structure. Where no ergonomic chairs or desks were available, I had to go as far as to place old phonebooks under their forearms to maintain arm/back alignment.

It looked strange but this impromptu support system saved some folks from having surgery for CTS…or from developing tension headaches that would start in the shoulder area and creep up into the skull.

And it saved many from developing long lasting lower back pain!
When I first started applying martial arts principles to everyday life, we had a rule about workstations: work 20 minutes then take a break…even if only for a minute.

The reason was a simple one: if your back muscles hold any one position for a long time they become tired. They begin tensing up. Tense muscles lead to a slowdown in blood circulation in and out of these muscles resulting in “blood pooling”. Toxins build up. Pressure is placed on the nerves. We start to experience pain.

I think the question the reader has asked is an important one. I don’t want to leave it with just an assessment. So tomorrow, I’ll talk about some of the stretches and massage techniques that can be helpful…right at the workstation!

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