As consumers, we spend a lot of time selecting just the right sofa, chair or bed for our home. We demand and expect comfort and will often pay top dollar to get it.
If only we would do the same with our office chairs, where we spend 8 hours or more a day, often bent over a computer or workstation as our back, neck, shoulders, arms, and legs strain to keep up with our workload.
The primary cause of back pain at the office is due to a poorly engineered or improperly fitting chair. To maintain good health, your back and neck need to be properly supported. Most office chairs limit critical movement and create a lot of compression on the spine. In some cases, this can cause a long-term breakdown in the discs in your spine because they can’t receive critical nourishment from the blood supply due to lack of movement.
Sciatica can also become a serious issue, as the downward forces of sitting cause the bottom of the pelvis to move forward. This causes you to sit on your tailbone, creating a ‘C’ shape in your spine, causing injury.
Poor posture in office chairs is estimated to cost businesses $5 billion annually as employees use sick leave to deal with back and neck pain issues. That adds up to 11 million lost days of productivity and 800,000 employee visits to the hospital each year.
Small wonder why back and neck pain caused by uncomfortable office chairs is such a national problem, as more and more workers leave the production line and move into the office.
Unfortunately for many of us, we don’t get to choose our office chair. That’s done by the companies we work for and many don’t allow us to bring in an ergonomic chair that fits us perfectly. If your company does allow you to get your own chair, do it.
If not, here are some helpful tips to ensure that your office chair and workspace are more conducive to a healthier workday that is free of recurrent back pain and even eventual damage to your spinal and muscular structure.
Elbows. Start by sitting at your desk comfortably. You want to rest your hands on your work surface. If you use a keyboard, rest your hands on it. Otherwise, place your hands on your desk. Now, look at your elbows. They should be at a 90-degree angle. If they aren’t, raise or lower your chair accordingly until they are.
Thighs. Properly adjusted, your fingers should slide easily under your thigh at the very front of the chair. If they don’t you may need a footrest to elevate your legs properly so there is adequate space here. If you’re really tall, you may need to see if the Facilities folks in your office can raise the desk a bit. If you have to do it yourself, add some small blocks underneath each leg one weekend. Your back will be glad you did.
Calf. Place your posterior against the very back of the chair. Then clench your fist and see if you can place it between the front of your chair and the back of your calf. If you can’t, the chair is too deep. To compensate, get a lumbar support cushion for the chair or get a new chair that fits your measurements.
Lower back. If you have a newer chair, it may already have lumbar support. When you sit back fully in your chair and your back is against the back of the chair, you should feel an arch in the chair in the lower back area. If one isn’t built-in, you may want to get a lumbar support cushion to relieve extraneous stress on your lower back, especially on the lumbar discs.
Armrests. Now it’s back to the chair. Your final adjustment is the armrests. When properly adjusted, the armrests should just slightly lift your arms at the shoulders. This will help take the strain off your neck and shoulders.
Even the best chair and most accurate adjustments won’t totally prevent strain if you’re slaving over your work for hours at a time. One of the keys to preventing back pain is to be sure your spine experiences regular movement. This allows your discs to get the proper flow of blood, which can help prevent permanent and even debilitating injury.
A good rule of thumb is to stand, walk or stretch for two minutes every half hour you work. Get some coffee, take a lap around the office or visit the restroom to freshen up. Your neck and back will greatly appreciate the exercise and you’ll be rewarded with a lifetime of back health instead of back pain.