How best to eliminate back pain at the office

Sustained and long periods of sitting still at our desks are not good for our backs – this is obvious: but how best to reduce the risks of backache and related stress? Getting up to stretch and walk around at regular interval makes very good sense, but many of us simply do not do it. And according to the British Chiropractic Association amongst others, this is one of many reasons why office-related musculoskeletal problems are still on the increase.

A feature of modern working life is how easy it is to become trapped into a sedentary existence. We spend long periods using keyboards, even during lunch hour checking emails, and then in the car or on the bus or train home. It should be no surprise that the result of so much time spent in a fixed position is an increase in the incidence of neck, shoulder and back injuries. And it really is no surprise that experts agree that it is vital to incorporate more movement and flexibility into what otherwise are quite static and sedentary working roles. But how to achieve this?

A recent study reported in the industry press suggested that – as opposed to the age-old advice to sit up straight – a slumped position actually appears to be the healthier option. The study at Woodend Hospital, Aberdeen, Scotland asked 22 volunteers with no history of back trouble to adopt a slouch, a 90 degree and a 135 degree angled sitting position, whilst being scanned by an MRI scanner. The results showed the latter angled position to place least strain on the lower back.

In spite of these somewhat controversial findings, office furniture commentators have agreed that up to a point, a reclining position can be beneficial, as long as the spine is properly supported through good a quality office chair, suitably adjusted. In particular, setting up the office chair with a slight backward lean has always been thought of as an ideal posture – as long as the lower back is in complete contact with the back of the chair. However, such a position is hardly appropriate for those involved in a great deal of typing and keyboard-related work, where leaning forward becomes the natural tendency.

One solution here is posture-monitoring software such as the proprietary PostureMinder which offers a neat software-based solution to the problem of injuries due to poor posture at the desk. Such systems continually check your posture via a webcam, and deliver on-screen reminders to you when you have been consistently sitting badly for a minute or two, for example.

Coupled with good quality office furniture and advice from ergonomic experts in its proper use, such solutions point a way forward to the problem. Good office seating should follow the movement of the body and be flexible with it whilst supporting it. Chairs should always have a good, ergonomic, synchronised mechanism and come with solid practical advice.

However, in the end, with proper office furniture in place, plus footrests, flexible PC monitor adjusting arms, TCO approved VDUs and all other ergonomic hardware, it remains imperative to think less about the positioning of the equipment – important as it is – and think more about varying the position of the individuals using them, including constant reminders to take short breaks and varying the office routine as far as possible.