Wright State University Sports Medicine Blog


Back Off, back pain

Back ‘Back Pain’ Up

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The responsibilities and stresses placed on the average nine to five worker can lead to many health issues, including but not limited to, lower back pain.  Take for example office worker John Smith, who after five hours of his Tuesday shift he finally takes a break to get up out of his desk chair to head to the water cooler and he feels a sharp, stabbing pain in his lower back.  While this motion probably set off the pain, this moment may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, pardon the pun.

Many factors may lead to lower back injury the work place.  According to  the Mayo Clinic, there are four factors that contribute to back pain; force, repetition, posture, and stress.  With a few quick and easy tips, the incidence and possibility of lower back pain can be lowered substantially.

Before speaking about prevention, let’s cover a few simple ways to alleviate (or lessen) back pain. First off, any severe back pain or pain with neurological symptoms (burning, tingling, numbness, etc.) should be seen and evaluated by a medical professional. In cases of mild back pain, the following actions may help. Depending on whether the condition is acute or chronic, ice or heat may be used.  If the pain is a result of a sudden  movement and has occurred in the past 24-72 hours ice should be used to minimize swelling in the area.  If the condition is chronic, or is a long standing ailment, heat may be used to increase the elasticity of the tight musculature.  For those who have access to a rehabilitation center, some forms of electrotherapy can help decrease spasm in the area.  Now that we’ve discussed a few ways to manage the pain, let’s discuss how to prevent it.

The first and foremost obvious answer is to include more physical activity in your daily routine.  It is suggested that 150 minutes of moderate activity should be completed each week, if you are short on time 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity will do.  In many instances lower back pain will be due to tight musculature in the lumbar area so stretching a few times a day can help.  There are a number of muscles that have the possibility of being including in lower back discomfort.  The paraspinals, which are responsible for extending your trunk, can be stretched by performing the child’s pose stretch.  To perform this stretch find yourself on your knees and sit back on your heels. Once in this position reach your hands and arms forward and slide them across the floor as far as you can while still sitting on your heels.  To focus on one side or the other reach your hands to either the left or right.  The cat-camel stretch not only targets the lumbar, or lower back, but it also stretches the thoracic spine or the mid back region.  While on your hands and knees, push your abdomen towards the floor to target your lumbar spine and then make a cat like arch in your back to focus on your thoracic spine.  Many people would not think that the hamstrings could play a role in lower back pain but flexibility of this muscle group can prevent and alleviate pain.  While standing with both legs straight slowly reach down to your toes and hold.

Posture is of upmost importance when attempting to minimize lower back pain.  According to spine-health.com, adjusting six different positions at your desk can be a proactive step in helping to maintain a healthy spine.  According to the website, your elbows should be at a 90 degree angle when resting your forearms on your desk.  Your fingers should easily be able to slide underneath your thigh at the edge of your chair.  If it is too tight you can adjust by adding a foot rest.  Next check to see if your fingers can easily slide between your calf and the front of the chair, if you cannot then your chair is too deep and you will need to move the back rest forward.  In order to protect the lumbar discs of the spine, a lumbar support should be used in order to ensure proper lumbar curvature.  At all times your computer screen or focus of your specific job should be at the center of your gaze with your head straight forward.  By bending your neck up, down, left, or right all day great stress will be placed on your upper back and shoulders.  And finally your armrest should slightly raise your arms at your shoulders to relieve stress in the area.

While posture is most likely the biggest culprit in lower back pain at the work place, stress is also a factor.  The idea that stress is “carried” in your shoulders and back is very true.  A person who is feeling a great deal of stress tends to tense their muscles unknowingly causing spasm over time.  Deep breathing exercises, taking a walk, or relaxation visualization exercises may assist in ridding you of back pain.

Back pain can make an already stressful workday worse.  By taking time to examine your surroundings and make changes where necessary, lower back pain can be deterred. 

References:

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/back-pain/HQ00955

http://www.forbes.com/2008/09/10/back-pain-prevention-forbeslife-cx_avd_0910health.html

http://www.spine-health.com/wellness/ergonomics/office-chair-how-reduce-back-pain

http://physicaltherapy.about.com/od/flexibilityexercises/ss/LowBackStretch_4.htm

http://www.livestrong.com/article/538588-low-impact-stretches-for-the-lower-back/

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