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5 Tips to Keep Your Spine Healthy at Work

Spine and back health

If you are like most people, work oryour job consumes more than half of your waking hours. What are you doing to help keep your spine healthy at work so you won’t suffer with back pain or discomfort?

If your back already hurts or is uncomfortable or it happens intermittently, there are simple things you can do to prevent and alleviate pain and injury. Check out these 5 tips (including results of a new study) you shouldn’t work without.

If you sit at work
If you sit at work, you are placing a great deal of pressure on your lower spine. The kindest way to take care of your back is to use a chair that allows you to sit in a natural position that places minimal stress on your lower back.

A spine-healthy chair supports your back and be at a height that allows you to place your feet firmly on the floor. The chair should not place pressure behind your knees, and the angle behind your knees should be greater than 90 degrees.

How you hold your head while sitting also affects your spine. If you work at a computer, be sure the screen is positioned so it is directly in your line of vision and that you do not need to bend your neck up, down, or to the sides. If you talk on the phone, be sure to have a hands-free device or hold the phone to your ear: gripping the phone between your ear and shoulder is not good for your neck or spine.

If you stand at work
Being on your feet for hours places tremendous stress on your lower back, but you can take steps to reduce that pressure, even if your job requires you to stay fairly stationery, which is common for cashiers, store clerks, or some factory workers.

To relieve pressure on your back, stand with one foot slightly in front of the other. Also keep your knees slightly bent, which also helps you retain your balance. During your breaks or at lunch, take a short brisk walk and stretch (see below).

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Choosing the proper shoes is also important if you stand for extended periods of time. Therefore, women are advised to keep those high heels for special occasions and wear shoes with adequate arch and ankle support and a minimal heel.

Here’s an interesting study concerning chronic lower back pain and shoes. A multicenter, assessor-blind study found that flat shoes were more beneficial than rocker sole shoes (which have been marketed as helping with back pain) for chronic lower back pain aggravated by walking or standing. The reviewers also reported that flat shoes and rockers were similar in affecting disability and pain in people with chronic lower back pain.

If you drive for work
If your job requires you to spend hours behind the wheel of a car or truck, be sure you have sufficient lower spine support in your vehicle seat. There are various back support seat cushions and combination back and seat supports you can buy for your vehicle. Even if you have a long commute, it may be worth it for you to invest in back support.

You should also take a break at least every two to three hours and stretch (see below). Also remember not to be careful when twisting or turning in your seat, especially if you try to reach for something in the back seat, as you can strain your muscles.

If you lift at work
Even if you have lifted objects hundreds of times, you should always think before you lift. Here are some general rules to follow:

  • Place your feet shoulder width apart with one foot slightly ahead of the other.
  • As you squat down, bend your hips and knees, not your back. If you need more support, put one knee on the floor and your other knee in front of you so you are half kneeling.
  • Lift slowly, keeping your shoulders back and your back straight. Straighten your hips and knees.
  • Hold the lifted object close to your body
  • If you need to change direction, use your feet and do not twist.
  • When putting the object down, squat with your knees and hips only.

Stretching at work
Whether you sit, stand, drive, or lift at work, it’s important for good spine health to take a few moments to stretch, several times a day if possible. Here are a few simple stretches you can do.

  • While sitting or standing, slowly bend your head forward so your chin moves toward your chest. Feel the stretch in the back of your neck. Hold for several seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
  • This is a variation of the neck stretch above. Slowly bend your neck to one side as if you were going to rest your ear on your shoulder. When you feel a comfortable stretch, hold that position for several seconds, then return to the starting position. Do the same on the other side. Repeat the stretch on both sides 2 to 3 times.
  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Keep your back straight, your knees slightly bent, and your head level. Bring your arms up over your head, interlace your fingers, and turn your palms up toward the ceiling. Slowly stretch up, reaching for the sky. Hold that position while taking several slow, deep breaths, releasing the air slowly each time.
  • If you can lie down (this one is good for home too), find a comfortable place. Pull both knees up toward your chest while also drawing your head toward your knees. You can place your hands behind your head if you like, but only to support your neck, not to push your head forward. Hold this stretch for several seconds, then return to the reclining position. Repeat 2 to 3 times.

Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about back pain and proper care of your spine. Take care of your spine…it’s the only one you have!

Macrae CS et al. Effectiveness of rocker sole shoes in the management of chronic low back pain: a randomized clinical trial. Spine 2013 Aug 7

Image: Morguefile