Ergonomics Tips for Combating Back Pain While Working

by Eric Bostrom January 07, 2021 5 min read

Ergonomics Tips for Combating Back Pain While Working

Without a doubt, 2020 will be remembered for one thing: the coronavirus. Aside from all the obvious health concerns this disease has brought to the world, there’s another health condition that’s now become even more important because of the pandemic. 

This year we’ve seen a quick and dramatic shift of employees leaving their physical offices and working from home. Whether your home office is an actual office or your dinner table, odds are you lack the setup to accommodate the best ergonomic practices.

And if we’re honest, you probably didn’t have a very ergonomic setup at your actual workplace either, right?

If you didn’t already know, sitting for prolonged periods is absolutely terrible for your health—especially for your back. 

For those of you who don’t sit at a computer all day as part of your job, back health and proper ergonomics are just as (or maybe more) necessary. Proper lifting techniques are vital to keeping you from hurting yourself, and in turn, being able to work. 

In this article, I want to share some tips for maintaining proper ergonomics at the workplace. Back injuries are so common both at work and at home, and if we take the time to remember and apply a few essential tips and tricks, we can get back pain under control. While this piece is largely aimed at office workers, there are still bits of advice that will apply if you have other physically active jobs as well. 

A Quick Refresher On Posture

You’ve probably been told from an early age to “sit up straight” or “don’t slouch.” This all goes back to keeping your spine properly aligned. Sitting in an office chair all day, or even slouching when you’re standing, places undue stress on your spine. 

This static posture, when repeated day after day in the work environment, can lead to chronic pain. More often than not, it’ll start in your back, but also manifests itself in neck pain as you strain to look at your computer screen.

All that sitting can also lead to hip discomfort, too, since you can start to form a muscle imbalance of having chronically tight hip flexors with your legs in the seated position for so long. Additionally, sitting places pressure on the sciatic nerve, which can lead to the painful condition of sciatica. 

Sitting up straight, not slouching, and otherwise practicing a “proud chest” with your shoulders back and down helps keep your spine aligned and takes the pressure off your back by engaging your core.  

Ergonomics Tips for Combating Back Pain While Working

Tips For Your Office

The standard office setup hasn’t changed in decades: desk, chair, keyboard, computer screen. Not much thought has been put into it until recently, where a smattering of ergonomic alternatives have started to pop up. While many of those things are nice, there are some very simple and inexpensive alternatives you can do right from home. 

  • Adjust monitor: To start, place your monitor at eye level. If your desk has a separate shelf that allows you to elevate your screen, that’s great. If not, raising your screen higher can be as simple as stacking books underneath until you get your screen at the desired height.
  • Lumbar support: If you can’t invest in an ergonomic office chair (some workplaces provide ergonomic chairs, even in this WFH environment, so double check), place a small pillow in your current chair to act as lumbar support. Also, as a reminder, many people tend to sit at the edge of their seats. Try not to. Sitting at the edge causes you to bend forward to see your screen and use your keyboard – that’s precisely the kind of posture we’re trying to avoid. Instead, sit back in your chair and take advantage of the built-in lumbar support (if any), or use the pillow mentioned earlier. 
  • Ergonomic chair: If you can get yourself an ergonomic chair, this is better than the dinner table chair many of us are using. Be sure to adjust the seat of the office chair so your desk is at your elbows. Your thighs should be a tiny bit above parallel with the floor (use a box or books as a footrest, if needed). And again, remember to sit all the way back and use the chair’s lumbar support to push your lower back in slightly, promoting the spine’s natural curvature.  
  • Stand-up desk: After reading everything above about ergonomic chairs, I have to tell you my personal preference is to use a standing desk. As you know, staying active and continually moving is the key to a healthy and productive lifestyle, and that extends to the office. Having a stand-up desk makes it harder for me to slump into poor posture, it gets my muscles moving and the blood flowing more than if I were sitting, and a standing desk has the added benefit of taking up less space since there isn’t a chair to worry about. Just like with office chairs, standing desk arrangements can be as expensive or inexpensive as you want. A simple online search will bring back all kinds of stand-up desks costing upwards of thousands of dollars. Alternatively, the budget-minded among us can use their existing sitting desk and place a raised platform on it to allow you to stand. 

    The Backmate and Power Massager

    No matter which office arrangement you choose, it’s essential to protect your spine and lower back. Aside from the advice above, be sure to take frequent mini-breaks to stretch. Shake out your fingers and wrists, and also give your neck and back a good stretch, too.

    The Backmateis a perfect companion for just this purpose, as you can leave it perched on your office door, and once it’s time for a break you can simply take a few steps and roll out the kinks from that stressful meeting you just had. 

    If you have a particularly troublesome spot you need to address, the Power Massager is an excellent tool to work out pain and soreness through the soothing powers of percussive massage. 

    There’s a lot of uncertainty, anxiety, and fatigue setting in right now due to the pandemic. For those of us fortunate enough to still be healthy and employed it’s so important now more than ever to take care of ourselves while we work. Proper posture and following good ergonomic principles will go a long way towards keeping our back and spine healthy. 

    On behalf of the entire Backmate family, I wish you all a happy and healthy New Year. As always, here’s to your continued health!

    Eric Bostrom
    Eric Bostrom