3 STEPS TO CREATING A PAIN-FREE WORK ENVIRONMENT
Nearly eight out of ten people will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Back pain is a leading cause of workman’s comp claims and causes more disability for people ages 45 and younger than any other health care problem. Shockingly, almost 85% of all back injuries result from performing everyday activities incorrectly. Sitting, for example, is a leading cause of back pain along with other simple work related tasks. Why? Because people don’t know how to properly perform these basic activities. Since most people are unable to change their jobs or work environments, the following steps will allow you to enjoy a more pain-free work environment without compromising your job and efficiency.
1. STRETCH EVERY 20-30 MINUTES
Everyone should stretch, but this specific stretch is ideal for those of us that sit most of the day. Stretching every 20-30 minutes combats the effects of excessive sitting. To perform the appropriate stretch, stand up and reach toward the ceiling. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. During exhalation, stretch higher toward the ceiling. Next, with your palms pointed up, bring your arms down to the side of your body. Then, pretend you are holding a pencil between your shoulder blades and squeeze them together to prevent the pencil from falling. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. During this exhalation, hold the contraction of your shoulder blades together for 10 seconds. Relax. You have successfully completed the basic stretch needed to combat the effects of prolonged sitting. The entire stretch break will not take more than 30 seconds, yet its benefit will last exponentially longer. Repeat this stretch every 20-30 minutes, or as needed.
2. USE A VESTIBULAR DISC
If you have a sedentary job, use a vestibular disc while sitting. A vestibular disc is an inflatable, 1-2 inch thick cushion that health care practitioners typically use to restore balance. These special “cushions” force you to keep a dynamic seated position. I’ve witnessed numerous patients in clinic improve their back pain and discomfort after sitting on vestibular discs. I suggest sitting on one (with the smooth surface facing up) for 20-30 minutes out of an hour for the first week or two of use. If you don’t experience discomfort after 20-30 minutes out of the hour, try sitting on the disc for the entire hour. I don’t recommend sitting on an exercise ball, as research does exist stating the disadvantages of using an exercise ball DO NOT exceed the advantages. Visit www.backsafetyandwellness.com/p/52/vestibular-disc to see a vestibular disc.
3. DON’T DO TOO MUCH OF ANY ONE THING
Whether it is sitting, standing, twisting, or bending, the premise is the same: don’t do too much of any one thing. Performing the same movement repeatedly harms the body. The body likes symmetry and change. If the first two recommendations are not feasible for your job or lifestyle, do your best to change the order of your tasks. For example, switch the placement of your phone from the left side of your desk to the right side every other week, if you are unable to use a headset. Change your sitting position. Take rest breaks. It is little things like these that protect the body from overuse and injury. Excessive sitting or standing occurs after 50 minutes, so remember to take your stretch breaks.
Dr. Zumstein is the author of Secrets to Preventing Back and Neck Pain: 60 Ways to Protect Your Spine and the founder of The Back Safety & Wellness Consultants. You can find his book, information about his company, or sign up for his free newsletter at www.backsafetyandwellness.com.