By Dr. Brent Wells
The human body was not designed to sit in a chair all day. But, as our lives have moved from being hunters and gatherers and farmers to becoming employees who exercise about an hour each day, it is important that we figure out ways to move at our desks. Without regular movement, sedentary bodies can develop a plethora of disease, including acute or chronic back pain.
Sedentary lifestyles can cause back pain
As more people complain about back pain, researchers have taking to studying how office work contributes to it. In a study published in the BMJ Open, researchers reported that sedentary works in offices, schools, hospitals, and the military have a prevalence for low back pain. The study in the BMJ Open attempted to see if computer use contributed to back pain. Researchers did find that computer use, especially when the computer was not placed directly in front of the worker did contribute to low back pain. Having a cold office did, too. Women and employees who worked in an office for many years also commonly complained of back pain.
Prevent back pain with regular exercise
In another study related to back pain, researchers looked at how exercising relieved and helped prevent back pain. In the study, published in The Spine Journal, researchers recommended that people with back pain exercise regularly. It helps them improve their strength and it adds flexibility. In fact, research shows that people who add exercise to their days see a 10% to 50% reduction of pain. Adding exercises to your workday will help you find relief from problems that can lead to behavioral, cognitive, and physical issues.
Fortunately, there are several helpful exercises that people can do at their desks and in their offices to ease their back pain. One of the most effective exercises is yoga. The National Institutes of Health reported that participants who took regular yoga classes and/or prescribed stretching exercise programs that lasted between 20 minutes and 75 minutes reduced their reliance on pain medication to treat back pain. Many of the participants reported that their back pain was gone or significantly better after three or six months of regular practice.
Cat-cow stretch at your desk
So, if you are going to exercise in the office, you should turn to stretches and yoga poses. One wonderful exercise that you can do while seated at your desk is the cat-cow stretch. In yoga classes, the exercise is usually done on a mat on hands and knees. But, at your desk, all you have to do is sit up straight with your feet on the floor and your palms on your knees with your arms straight. As you inhale, you press your low back toward your desk and look up at the ceiling, creating a subtle curve in the back. This stretches the front of the body. Then, as you exhale, you arch your back behind you and drop your chin to your chest. This stretches the back of the body. Repeat several times and as needed throughout the day.
Cat-cow stretches can also be done while standing. It helps to put your hands on a table top, then moves through the series of stretches.
Twist it up
Another stretching exercise that feels great is a simple seated twist. While sitting up straight, inhale, then exhale. As you exhale twist toward the back of your chair and use your hands to grab the back of the chair and the arm of the chair. Inhale and lengthen your spine toward the ceiling, then, exhale and twist a little bit more. Hold one side for a few inhales and exhales, then go the other way and hold that side for a few inhales and exhales. It is best to do this exercise in a chair that does not rock or twist, but if that isn’t an option, keep your feet firmly on the floor to stabilize the chair.
Like cat-cow, this exercise can be done while standing, too. Just be sure to have something to hold on to so you can get the leverage you need to twist.
Get moving at lunch
Instead of eating at your desk, get up and move. If you have stairs, walk up and down the stairs a few times during your lunch break. If you can go outside and walk, do it – even if you can only do it for 10 to 15 minutes. One of the worst things you can do is sit at your desk and eat. If you choose to sit somewhere and eat, walk to that place so you have some time away from your desk. If you have to talk to an employee and you have the opportunity to walk to that person’s desk, do it. Don’t send an email or make a phone call when you can talk face-to-face and move a little through the day.
If you cannot get outside or walk the stairs at lunch, you can run in place or walk in place in your office. Do a few minutes to get your heart rate up, then add some squats or push-ups to build strength in your chest, core, and legs. If doing push-ups on the floor is not an option, you can do them against an empty wall. You can even pretend to jump rope in place at your desk, too!
Leg extensions work the core
Weak backs and weak cores come with being sedentary and contribute to back pain. If you are working on strengthening your core, you can do basic leg lifts at your desk. Scoot your chair away from your desk, then extend your legs straight out from your hips. Hold them. Try to lift and hold both legs at the same time, but if you cannot, one at a time is a good place to start. After you are finished with this exercise, you should do the opposite of it and lean forward with your torso and hug your upper legs. This will release some of the tension in your back if you have any and it also stretches the hamstrings.
Dr. Brent Wells founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Alaska in 1998 and is considered as the best Anchorage chiropractor. Originally from California, he received his doctorate from Western States Chiropractic College in Oregon. He is a member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family, reading, and volunteering.