Five Tips for Preventing Back Pain in Office Workers

As one of the most common medical problems, health experts estimate that up to 80% of the population in the U.S. will be affected by back pain at some point in their lives. Listed below are some tips to help keep you in the 20% of people with healthy backs.

1. Watch your posture, especially at work. When at your desk, do you keep your back straight most of the time, or do you continually lean forward at an angle? Sitting hunched over at your desk for extended periods can cause the muscles on the front of your torso to shorten and your back muscles to become weak and stretched out. Over time, office workers with muscle imbalances from a continually slumped posture may develop rounded shoulders and a forward neck posture, leading to chronic back and neck pain.

2. Get regular exercise that uses all of your major muscle groups. Even with the best posture at work, our bodies simply were not designed to be sitting in front of a computer all day. Muscles kept at bent positions for long periods can become contracted and may become difficult to fully extend when doing other tasks. Muscles not used at all can atrophy from inactivity. If you sit at a desk all day long, try to have some form of regular exercise scheduled outside of work to keep your joints lubricated and your muscles moving freely.

3. Try to take regular stretch breaks at your desk. Set a timer to remind you to take a break every 30 minutes, or purchase software with a window that pops up with simple stretches you can do at your desk.

4. Try yoga for back pain prevention. Yoga is often helpful for back pain sufferers, as performing a variety of different types of postures generally help to stretch and strengthen all of the body’s major muscles groups. Yoga can help prevent back pain by keeping muscles balanced, moving freely and by lengthening and “decompressing” restricted areas of tightness. Sitting all day can cause a person’s spine to become contracted and compressed. Office workers often find the back bend positions in yoga good counter balance exercises to being hunched forward over a computer keyboard all day long.

Please note that if you already suffer from back pain and have limited movement, many of the postures in a general yoga class may be too difficult for you to perform. In that case, see a qualified yoga therapist for therapeutic exercises that may help. There are also many yoga books and videos available with gentle exercises specifically designed for people with chronic back pain.

5. If you’ve tried physical therapy for back pain and it didn’t help, don’t give up. Consider trying a different therapist with a different style and training. I’m convinced that physical therapy can, in some ways, be more of an art than a science. Just as not everyone who goes to art school becomes a great artist, not everyone with a degree in physical therapy excels at her career. The first two physical therapists I tried for back pain made me worse. The second one I tried gave me exercises that were aggravating my back, yet when I protested that I was getting worse instead of better, she told me to “work through the pain”. At the end of my therapy sessions with her, I was in so much pain I could barely walk. (If nothing else, it was good lesson that continuing to exercise when in severe pain is probably never a good idea.) Yet the third therapist I tried helped me tremendously by analyzing my posture and giving me gentle, posture balancing exercises.

5. Eat a healthy diet of whole foods. Make sure to consume at least the minimum recommended daily requirement for magnesium by eating a wide variety of magnesium rich foods. Among hundreds of other functions, magnesium is the mineral the body needs to release muscles. Without adequate magnesium, muscles can’t relax, and may become tight and contracted, not just in the back but also everywhere in the body. Good foods sources of magnesium include pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, halibut and white beans.

Please note that any information in this article should be considered as general information only and should not be used to diagnose or treat back pain or any other health condition. See your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment of any medical concerns you may have, and before implementing any diet, exercise, supplement or other lifestyle changes.