Lower back pain accounts for more than 264 million lost workdays per year, and costs American’s more than 50 billion dollars in health care cost per year! Yet, not all employers are proactive enough to protect their employees from acquiring lower back pain. It appears that there is a big lack of understanding of the specific reason why individuals suffer from lower back pain. Improper bending at the waist while lifting a heavy object has always been to blame, however, not all employees lift heavy boxes or whatever. Statistically, back pain from lifting objects affects a smaller percentage of the working population according to OSHA studies. So what is the primary culprit contributing to lower back pain? It is important that you can identify exactly what part of your spine is painful and what exactly is triggering it. There are some tried and true methods that you can do on your own to remedy the pain when it occurs, however, let’s begin with the number one cause of lower back pain and address the solutions later.
Reason Number One: Prolonged sitting.
Sitting in an office chair greater than one hour causes a multitude of structural changes, stability, and shape of the human spine in relationship to the position of the pelvis. Prolonged sitting causes bio motor amnesia of the gluteal muscles ( your Butt). The gluteal muscle are the primary stabilizer of your lower back. If the gluteals are not working/firing, then the lower back gets sloppy and discs bulging ensues. To make things worse, the hip flexors which emanate from the top of your leg bones and attach to the 5 lumbar vertebrae become adaptively shorter with prolonged sitting. When these muscles become adaptively shorter, you cannot stand up straight without lower back pain or achy pressure at best. You will be bent forward 25 degrees when trying to stand vertical. To understand the ramifications of repetitive overload and reciprocal inhibition is outside the scope of this article, however, it is important to bear in mind that each situation bares an arthro kinetic dysfunction and intense back pain. If left unchanged or corrected can lead to intervertebral disc herniation, ligament rupture or a complete disc rupture.
How to Avoid Lower Back Pain Due to Prolonged Sitting:
There are many well thought out viable solutions that can help you improve the magnitude of lower back pain. Most work very well, but being mindful of doing them is important if you want to decrease lower back pain.
Adjust desk height, seat position, and computer screen distance. Your spine should be vertical instead of flexed forward, head always positioned at the horizon, where your computer screen should be located. Your computer screen distance should be within the focal distance of your natural eyesight or the prescription of your glasses. If your focal distance if incorrect your head and neck posture with naturally move forward and your lower back will round to compensate for the change.
Stand more and take breaks from sitting. Occupational Therapists recommend standing at least every two hours from your work station. This allows the spine to decompress. If you are not mindful enough to remember this then using a Varidesk is recommended. A Varidesk is a very ergonomic standing desk that is quite comfortable to use at home or at work. As an addendum to the Varidesk, you can purchase a mini treadmill design to allow you to gently walk while standing at the Varidesk.
Core Chairs or Swiss Ball seating. Both are excellent solutions to alleviate lower back pain due to axial load compression and posterior pelvic tilting. When the pelvis falls out of the neutral zone ligaments become overloaded and intervertebral discs start to slide posterior and either impinge spinal ligaments or herniate into the spinal canal. Both situations can lead to a painful messed up day for the person who spends much of their time seated. The major drawback to using these two hybrid seats are core fatigue with overuse, and lack of mindfulness to use the sitting platforms effectively. The best modality is to alternate sitting positions between sitting on the Core Chair or Swiss Ball seat and the standing Varidesk. By following this technique you can decrease axial loads to the intervertebral discs by standing at the Varidesk. Mobilization and maintenance of lumbar pelvic tilt can occur with the use of the Swiss ball or Core Chair. I have found this technique to be the most effective approach to preserving lower back health.
Postural Biofeedback Devices. Since lower back pain and its related problems are an epidemic in the 21st century, more and more technology is emerging to help sufferers alleviate this crisis. Postural biofeedback devices can be simple vibrating pods attached to your shirt in the lumbar or cervical spine region. These vibration pods act as an alarm to the user letting them know when lumbar or cervical spine postures deviate outside the normal zone., In some cases are imaging pods that can send an auditory and visual alarm to your computer screen top to notify the desk jockey that their posture has deviated from the norm and a potential problem can occur. These devices are relatively inexpensive. But the main drawback is knowing what your normal posture is. Everyone has a certain level of arthro kinetic dysfunction. Does the question arise, at what point does the dysfunction create pain? Hence why a gradual progression to fix a faulty posture is highly recommended. Often these biofeedback devices cause the users to put themselves in a compromising position. The main drawback to these devices is the user can create more dysfunction and lower back pain, as they usually don’t know what the ideal back posture is. Instead of reinforcing the ideal J posture spine the individuals wearing these postural biofeedback devices tend to migrate toward the more comfortable S spine position which is typically seen in a swayback posture. the Sway-back posture places a critical load on the thoracic mid-spine. This redistribution of disk loads can lead to other harmful spine diseases and a new layer in pain syndromes.
Setting up a desk or chair properly can be hit or miss and usually a second set of viewing eyes are required to analyze posture. Unfortunately, the lack of foresight can sometimes make the situation worse. My advice is to hire a professional to assess your posture. There are skilled health and fitness professionals who are trained in workplace ergonomics. They can also make a recommendation of specific therapeutic exercises designed to strengthen a weak core and create flexibility in tight hamstring and hip flexors which typically become overactive during prolonged sitting. Your goal should be to someday retire comfortably pain-free and without need for spinal fusion or laminectomy. Again if you follow the statistics and do nothing you can expect abnormal consequences to follow. Perhaps requiring chronic dosing of opioids to help you get through it.
About the Author – Rivak Hoffman is Spine Therapist and Corrective Exercise Specialist licensed through the CHEK Institute. He has worked with individuals for almost twenty years in both San Diego, California, and Scottsdale, Arizona. He can be reached via e-mail or phone for a consultation at his website Every Bit Fit Arizona.