At some point in our lives, back pain is likely to affect each of us. In Australia, the cost of lost productivity and treatments costs a massive $34 billion according to a 2007 study by Access Economics.
So why is back pain occurring at epidemic levels? Is it because we work too much, do injuries happen through exercise, or are we just not standing straight and tall? In truth, work, exercise and posture are all responsible for causing back pain but they also hold the key to preventing it as well.
Let’s start with work. We’ve known for a while that remaining sedentary at work all day is bad for your health but have you considered the impact of smartphones and tablets. Work increasingly requires our attention across multiple devices and people are adopting new postures to accommodate the gadgets. Steelcase undertook a global study of 10,739 employees across six continents which identified nine new postures that have become typical for workers with high device use, these include: “The Strunch (stretched out over the desk and resting weight on desk), The Cocoon (reclining and resting device on thighs), The Draw (pulling back from desk when working with tablets), The Trance (concentrated reading on screen), and five others.” These are not natural postures for the human body and increase susceptibility to injury and back pain.
Recognising that work is largely unavoidable Dr Stephen Jia Wang from Monash University in Melbourne has developed smart office furniture that detects your posture and helps you sit up straight. It is not on the market yet we can tell you that it will resemble an ordinary office chair with a difference. Dr Wang has applied his thorough understanding of spinal health to creating a chair that uses technology, interactive design, gaming and physical computing technology, data analysis and health measurements to create a chair that sitters will want to use.
As you are unable to buy this chair right now, watch the video on this page where an osteopath explains ideal postures at work and the muscle groups that need to be engaged. Further key tips for avoiding back pain in the office include sitting close to the desk (leaning forwards causes strain). The monitor should be directly in front of you (avoid twisting your neck all day). Keep your knees at a 90 degree angle and remember to breathe deeply throughout the day.
What about exercise? We know we need to do it, but launching into a high impact sport after a day in the office encourages injuries. Our bodies don’t react well to high activity shock, accustomed to a lifestyle of sedentary behaviour. The trick is to incorporate exercise into your day. Try an app that counts how many steps you do a day. Increase them by printing to the far side of the office, walking to get a fresh glass of water ever half hours (improving your hydration levels too) and using your lunch break for a walk around the block. These are small steps for man, a giant leap for back health.