Following on from last week’s blog on desk ergonomics and my shout out for blog suggestions, Kapil Kapur, of Kingston Business Facebook Page, asked me to do a blog on how to keep your back healthy. Please keep suggestions rolling in on any health topics you would like to know more about, even if they do no not necessarily relate to back pain, nutrition or health issue enquiries are more than welcome. I will do my best to answer all questions and if I do not know the answer, I will be more than happy to point you in the right direction.
So, here are my 10 tips to keeping your back healthy
- Make sure your desk is set up ergonomically. My previous blog, Ergonomic tips to prevent back & neck pain has in depth information on how to configure your desk, computer and chair.
- Ensure your chair is up to the job. If you have inherited a chair, check that the seat is level, and the back is supportive. You may have inherited a very old chair or one which has been used consitently by a side leaner! If the support in the seat has gone, this can cause back pain. The easiest way to check the seat is with a spirit level. Check the back is adjusted correctly, there should be a lumbar support that comfortably supports your back without the feeling of being pushed forward. If you work from home, invest in a proper office chair, dump the dining chair!
- Stretch, stretch, stretch!! Sitting for long periods of time cause the muscles to stiffen and in some cases shorten. I’m not just talking about the upper back and neck, the low back, hip flexors and gluteal muscles are also affected. The easiest way of stretching your low back is to do it before getting out of bed. Hug your knees to the chest and hold for a count of 5, repeat 3 times. Then, place your feet onto the bed and drop your knees down to one side, looking in the opposite direction. This stretches out your low back and muscles that circle your waist. During the day at your desk, stretch out your gluts by placing your ankle on the opposite knee and lean forward, keeping your back straight (think pushing through the sternum). You should feel the stretch in your buttock muscle. For upper back and neck stretches, follow this set of stretches.
- Take regular breaks. Get up from the desk, have a quick stretch or walk to the water dispenser, anything to get your muscles moving again. I know it can be tough remembering to take regular breaks when you get absorbed in work. So, the easiest solution is to download software that detects how much time you have spent in front of the computer, via keypad and mouse work, then sends you an alert to take a break. There are free software downloads, i.e. http://www.workrave.org/.
- Strengthen your core muscles. Sitting at a desk all day, driving and sitting on the sofa when we get home has led to chronic weakness of the core muscles. The core provides the stable foundation for the rest of the torso to sit on. If you do not have a strong core, you use the incorrect muscles to sit up straight, i.e the shoulder girdle muscles to stop the upper back slouching. Pilates is the best type of core strengthening exercise you can do as it focuses on stretching and strengthening. My personal preference, when enquiring into Pilates classes, is to go for a small independent class or specialist Pilates centres, run by someone trained with Stott Pilates, Alan Herdman or The Michael King Method. Pilates classes run in a gym are usually too large, losing the individual attention required.
- If you use a laptop, follow the instructions on the Ergonomic tips to prevent back & neck pain blog and do not use the laptop when commuting, there is no way to stop neck strain when you are sitting on a plane or train.
- Do not ignore niggles, such as a stiff neck, stiff shoulders, headaches which have no known cause or a stiff back. These are signals that your body gives you as a warning prior to more serious conditions. Visiting your local Osteopath for treatment at this time will save long term pain and financial costs.
- Avoid repetitive bending and twist, even if its not load bearing, i.e. reaching into cupboards, refilling printers etc. The discs do not like the combination of bending and twisting as it is the structural weakest position. Repetitive movements of this nature can cause weakening of the fibres of the disc, leading to inflammation and the worst case scenario, herniation (slipped disc).
- If you commute into work by train or car, try and walk some of the journey. This could be done by walking to the train/tube station rather than getting the bus or parking the car a little further away from the office so that you can incorporate a 10 minute walk into the journey.
- Exercise regularly, especially if you are a self employed desk jockey. Self employed people are notorious for working too long and not taking regular breaks. Fix a time at least 3 times a week to exercise. Swimming or the gym or just a fast paced half an hour walk daily are perfect.