Do you experience regular back pain? You're not alone. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, more than 1 in 4 (26%) working adults experience low back pain.
Not only is it painful, but studies show that back pain can limit your activities and impact your ability to work. In fact, the Health Policy Institute found it to be a leading cause of work-loss days, with 83 million days of work lost per year.
Whether you work from home, the office or a combination of both, it's important to invest in your musculoskeletal health and protect your back. In recognition of National Ergonomics Month, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) offers three tips to strengthen and protect your back while working.
1. Practice proper posture
Let's get back to basics. Sitting properly is the first step to protecting your back. You may not realize how often you slouch or hunch over your desk while working. Practicing and maintaining proper posture may seem simple, but it will go a long way in preventing back pain and injury.
When sitting, keep your back in a normal, slightly arched position and your head and shoulders erect. Adjust your chair so your elbows are relaxed, your hands are resting comfortably on the table, your knees are bent at 90° and your feet are flat on the floor.
2. Set yourself up for success
Your work environment can have a big impact on your comfort and musculoskeletal health. Instead of forcing your body to fit your workspace, set up your workspace to fit your body.
Focus on making your workstation more ergonomic. Make sure your working surface is at the proper height, and your computer screen is at eye level, so you don't have to lean forward. Consider ergonomic office equipment that is designed to promote proper posture and back support. You can also consider using a Swiss ball (or exercise ball) as your desk chair to work your core and protect your back.
3. Take a break
If you've ever been to a baseball game, you know how nice standing up for the seventh-inning stretch feels. Even though it's a sedentary activity, sitting puts a strain on your back. Once an hour, if possible, take a few minutes and give your back a break by standing up and slowly stretching.
Carefully place your hands on your lower back and gently arch backward. Take a walk to the break room, another room in your remote workplace or take a lap around the office. You can even try some simple desk exercises like neck stretches and shoulder rolls. A break not only protects your back but can also refresh your mind so you can return to your work with sharp focus.
“Good musculoskeletal health is not just about treating problems when they arise; it’s about taking proactive steps to prevent them in the first place,” said Alan S. Hilibrand, MD, MBA, FAAOS, an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in spine surgery. “By maintaining proper ergonomics at our workstations and building the strength of our core stabilizing muscles we can significantly reduce the risk of developing debilitating chronic or debilitating back pain and related conditions.”
For more strategies on how to take care of your back at home and work, visit OrthoInfo.org.