As a Registered Massage Therapist, the most common issue I see among my clients seems to be related to their back. Back pain is very common, especially with the abundance of desk-related jobs that have you working 9-5, Monday through Friday. Most people think that with their “Ergonomically correct” desk chair, their back pain is not related to their job. However most people aren’t aware that ergonomically correct chairs are designed to add extra lumbar support and maintain the straight appearance of your spine, but these chairs only contribute to the benefits when used correctly, and most often they are not. With any desk chair, you should be following these basic guidelines that are suited for an ideal posture for any body type:
- Have your chair set with your knees at a perfect 90 degree angle, with feet flat on the ground
- Have your bottom placed to the very back of the chair so your spine lines with the center of the back rest
- Make sure your shoulders aren’t rounded forward, otherwise this contributes to a greater curve within your thoracic spine (your mid-back), therefore rounding your back. This is generally how back pain develops
If these positions are being maintained while seated all day, then perhaps the problem lies within your core (also known as the abdomen). Core strength relates to how straight the spine is able to be maintained throughout your day, during different activities. A lack in core strength can contribute to back pain, especially lower back pain. If this pertains to you, one of the most beneficial things you can do for yourself is swap out your desk chair for an Exercise Ball. Sitting on an Exercise Ball is done in a very similar way to an ergonomically correct chair. You want to make sure you are keeping your knees at a 90 degree angle, again with feet flat on the floor. You also want to be consciously aware of keeping your back straight. By doing this, your core is working extra hard without a back rest to keep that spine straight and eventually you will be able to replace your Exercise Ball with a desk chair again.
No matter how correctly you may be sitting in an ergonomically correct desk chair or on an exercise ball, you also want to make sure that you are taking frequent breaks from sitting. Taking 5 minutes here and there to stand up, stretch out or even simply walking to the water cooler, are all things that will contribute to the healthy movement of your muscles, that will in turn prevent your muscles from seizing up with tension after sitting for such long periods.
There’s also much more you can do for yourself after work, rather than during your work day. After you get home from a long day at the office, what better to do than relax? There’s nothing wrong with relaxing, especially when some relaxing activities can be very beneficial in reducing your back pain. Yoga is an excellent way to open up your joints, at the same time as you are properly stretching and strengthening your muscles and keeping them healthy. Yoga is an exercise that can be done by everyone, be it a child or an elder and it always has the same positive effect, when done properly. Below are some yoga-style exercises that can be done at home.
Apanasana (Knees to Chest):
- Lie on your back on a hard surface, preferably the floor
- From this position, bring your knees to your chest, one at a time
- From there, you will cross your forearms over both knees and pull your knees as close to your chest as you can; trying to flatten your spine out as best you can along the floor
- Hold this position for 2 minutes
- Slowly come back out of the stretch
- Repeat 1-3 times a dayIt is important to remember that during this, or any stretch, if you feel pain to STOP IMMEDIATELY and consult with a professional on what to do next. Some discomfort during a stretch, however, is normal.Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend):
- Sit on a hard surface with your feet straight out in front of you, your heels on the ground
- Stretch out to grab the bottoms of your feet, close to the heels
- Slowly pull yourself towards your feet, rounding your back out as you do so
- Once at a comfortable position where the stretch can be felt, hold your position for 30 seconds, but no longer than a minute
- If you can’t seem to get into a comfortable position with the stretch being felt within your mid-back, try bending your knees so you can pull yourself forward a little more
- Slowly come back out of the stretch
- Repeat 1-3 times a day
It is important to remember that during this, or any stretch, if you feel pain to STOP IMMEDIATELY and consult with a professional on what to do next. Some discomfort during a stretch, however, is normal.
Alyssa Hendry, RMT