According to a study published in 2013 by the Mayo Clinic, back pain is the third most common cause of doctor visits in the United States. And according to American Family Physician, only 25 to 30% of people seek treatment for their back pain. So if you’re experiencing back pain, you’re not alone. Many back pain sufferers struggle with what’s causing their back pain, not realizing the 8 or more hours they spend sitting could be the main culprit.
The most common cause of lower back pain is postural stress. For this reason, lower back pain is frequently brought on by sitting too long, prolonged bending, heavy lifting, or even standing or laying down, all for a long time in a poor, rounded back position. According to Cornell University Department of Ergonomics, up to 90% more pressure is put on your back when you sit vs. when you stand. There are several reasons why, the first being that if you’re like most Americans, you habitually sit in ways that cause tension and imbalance in your back and neck. This applies to sitting at work, in the car, and at home.
Common Posture Mistakes That Lead to Back Problems
1. You’re looking down at your screen, phone, or desk, and your head tips forward. As your head weighs on average 10 lbs, any slight angle forward puts a strain on the muscles of your neck and upper back. The further forward that you lean your head forward, as well as how long you keep that straining posture, determines how much extra work your neck and upper back need to do.
2. Your shoulders are rolled forward. Some of the most common causes are a lack of lumbar support from a chair that’s too soft or one that doesn’t encourage good posture, a muscular imbalance where your pectoral muscles (chest) are stronger than your back muscles (common in men who like to work out their beach muscles more than their back), or habit. If you’re wondering if you’re guilty of this, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and let your arms hang down at your sides. If your thumb points forward, you’re probably balanced. If your palms are pointing behind you, you probably have an imbalance.
3. You’re leaning forward from your lower back. This posture puts even more pressure on the vertebrae of your lower spine (lumbar area), as it compresses your disks.
4. Your elbows are too far away from your body. The rule in lifting anything is that the more the object weighs, and the further your elbows are away from your torso, the more strain you put on your shoulders and upper back. Reaching your arms forward to type or write might not seem like much, but doing it 8 hours or more per day will take it’s toll.
5. You hold your phone to your ear. Many people multitask and talk on the phone while their hands are doing other things. Doing this for a few seconds isn’t going to cause an imbalance in your body, but anything more that that will cause tension on one side of your neck and upper back.
6. You sit for too long. Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division and author of the Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, explains“We weren’t designed to sit. The body is a perpetual motion machine.” When you’re sedentary, your muscles get less oxygen and nutrients from your blood.
The rule of thumb is to frequent changing of postural positions and take movement micro-breaks for every 30 minutes of sitting throughout the work day. A helpful strategy is to drink lots of water: it keep you hydrated, which is healthy, and it forces you to get up and move in order to use the bathroom!
For a comprehensive list of how to sit, stand, and use your phone properly, check out Proper Workplace Ergonomics.
Getting rid of Back Pain
Everyone’s path of treating back pain is different so it’s important to try out different solutions and see what results you get. Here are some of our top suggestions for those suffering from lower back pain
Try a new Activity
Yoga – Yoga can be a very effective way of preventing and treating back pain from sitting. Bear in mind that some poses can provoke areas of pain so be mindful of which positions you can tolerate and work up to new positions as your body allows. Yoga is a very low-risk activity to try. Many studios will offer free first classes or a very low promotional price to get started. If you’re suffering from sitting caused back or neck pain, there’s no excuse for not giving yoga a try.
Pilates – Pilates has shown to help back and neck pain, especially certain types of exercises. While many other forms of physical activity can magnify body pain Pilates is a great choice for those currently suffering or those wishing to avoid pain risk. Pilates also offers a path to burning calories and losing weight that may not be accessible for those of us that are suffering from back pain. Pilates has gained tremendous popularity in the last 15 years and you should have no problem finding a local business that can help you get started.
Tai Chi – While many martial arts are very healthy activities, Tai Chi has developed a reputation for its extensive health benefits from the mind to the heart and energy levels. Tai Chi has also gained popularity for helping reduce neck and back pain as well as simply getting you into shape. Tai Chi has very popular and if you’re looking to try it there are likely local options for beginners where you live.
Get Help From a Professional:
Massage – Getting pain treatment through massage is another great way to get rid of pain. While this is more of a luxury approach a monthly massage can be affordable and effective. There are many types of massage options so be sure to ask about the pain area you’re suffering from or ask about a particular type of massage that addresses that area.
Go to a Chiropractor – Finding a good chiropractor can be the key to your pain. Chiropractors are trained in musculoskeletal manipulation and can identify the cause of your pain and specifically treat areas of pain with specialized procedures. They can also advise you on managing your pain in your day to day and suggest other activities that may help.
Products That may Help:
Get a standing desk – standing, even for short periods throughout the day has been proven to help elevate or even avoid sitting-caused back pain. By standing at your desk you’ll burn extra calories and the variability offered by a sit-to-stand desk will benefit you in more ways than you might think.
Get an ergonomic chair – for most of us sitting is just part of our daily lives and jobs. Even for those with the benefit of a standing desk, it’s still important to make sure that you have a quality chair for the considerable time you still spend sitting. Ergonomic focused chairs offer lower back or lumbar support which is key in making your sitting time much less painful.
Install a Keyboard Tray – A keyboard tray is an excellent ergonomic accessory that allows you to adjust your keyboard height and angle independently from your desktop or monitors. This can aid in achieving good posture and can help minimize pain both sitting or standing.
Get Monitor Arms – Monitor arms allow you to position your monitors exactly where you need them. Monitor arms are often bought to improve desktop aesthetics or organization but they are great for those suffering from back pain. They allow you to bring your monitors closer and position them at an ideal angle and height. This can reduce your tendency to lean forward or look downward at your screen.
Read more about how to prevent back pain…
11 Ways to Relieve and Control Upper Back Pain
If you’ve experienced upper back pain, you’re not alone. Millions of people around the world suffer from back pain every day, and it can be frustrating, life-changing, and hard. Upper back pain can be caused by a variety of factors like stress, over-exertion, and injury. Luckily, you don’t have to go through this upper back pain by yourself. We have compiled a list of sure methods to relieve and control your upper back pain, so you can get back to feeling like yourself in no-time.
1. Use Ice or Heat
This surefire method of treating upper back pain can be used to alleviate pain and prevent future injury. The cold and the heat can comfort pain, but also control it. It’s recommended that you use ice/cold for the first few days after the pain begins, since it can help reduce swelling. After using ice, you can switch to heat to keep the pain at-bay. If your upper back pain is chronic or comes back whenever it chooses, you can use either cold or hot methods. The choice between these two can be determined by which feels best on your skin and which alleviates the pain best for you.
2. Try a Massage or Massage Chair
People have used massage therapy for centuries to cleanse the body, release toxins, and reduce pain. You can go see a licensed massage therapist that is trained to take special care in areas that are sensitive. By massaging your upper back, you can help your muscles to relax and reduce tension. For a more long-lasting, budget-friendly option, you can purchase products like massage chairs. These products can massage areas of your back and body, allowing you to control the intensity and location of the massage.
For any questions you can contact Michael H at Titan Chair.
3. Take a Bath
Just like using a heating pad or hot compress, taking a bath has a lot of benefits to your upper back. Not only do you get to relax for a little while, but the hot water in the bath can help relax your muscles and stretch them out. There are a variety of products you can find that can be added to your bath as well, that can add additional relaxing and pain-relieving benefits. If sitting in the bath is painful, you can try using a bath cushion that will offer you more support.
4. Take Over-the-Counter Pain Medicines
If you have chronic back pain or are suffering from a back injury, your physician may prescribe painkillers to help keep the pain away. Beware of these types of medications however, since they can be extremely addictive. Instead, you can try using OTC medicines like acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines like Tylenol or Motrin. You should use these in conjunction with other pain-relieving methods for the best results. Always take these medications as directed and when in doubt, consult your doctor.
5. Stay Flexible
Even the oldest of us can still find ways to stretch and keep active. One of the largest causes of upper back pain is excessive tension and tightness. By performing basic stretches, participating in yoga/Pilates, or exercising, you can increase your flexibility. Having great flexibility decreases the chances that your upper back will tighten or strain itself into injury and pain. You should stretch your body’s muscles each day (even if your physical state is not that great), to help equalize the weight load throughout your entire body.
6. Exercise and Practice Good Posture
Exercising regularly can help keep your body in a great position to fight upper back pain. Regular exercise can keep your muscles and nerves flexible and strong, so your body is less likely to suffer from muscle strain or injury. In addition, if your posture is not correct while you are sitting, standing, or moving around, it will put added stress on your back. Always be sure to use the proper posture, especially while lifting objects.
7. Control Your Weight
Obesity can cause a wide array of medical issues, and back pain is no exception. When you are carrying around extra weight, it causes strain and stress on your muscles, bones, tissue in your back. This extra weight unnaturally shifts your center of gravity and puts extra strain on your entire back. Maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce the possibility of future back pain.
8. Change Your Sleep-Position
Sometimes the way you sleep can put stress on your upper back. Especially when you are prone to back pain, the position in which you sleep can play an important factor. Every person is different, so you’ll want to find the position that is most comfortable for you. You can try sleeping on your side with your knees pulled up to the side, putting a pillow under your knees while on your back, or placing a pillow under your hips while on your stomach.
9. Maintain a Healthy Diet
Though eating healthy is something you hear almost every day, many people don’t know that a healthy diet can have an extremely good impact on the health of your back. In fact, a lot of back pain can be caused by a lack of calcium or vitamin D. These two nutrients are essential to keeping your bones strong. If your bones are not as strong as they should be, the muscles, tendons and other tissue surrounding them will follow suit; causing your back stress and pain.
10. Watch What You Wear
It may sound silly, but your apparel could have a dramatic effect on your upper back. Clothes that are tight or inhibit your movement in any way prohibits your body from stretching and moving properly. Wearing high heels shift your center of gravity and put unnecessary pressure on your back, so try to stick to flat, comfortable shoes. Even overstuffed wallets can cause back discomfort if you place them in your back pocket while sitting. You may also take special care when choosing a purse, backpack, or briefcase as well. Uneven, carried weight can cause discomfort and pain.
11. Start a Pain Diary
If your upper back pain is caused by an injury, this may not be necessary. But if your pain is chronic or long-lasting, keeping a pain diary is a great idea. It obviously will not take away your pain, but it can provide you and your medical team with invaluable information. Each day, you should write when you feel pain, where, how severe it is, and any physical activities you performed that day. You can also add in what you eat and medications you’ve taken. These diaries can give your doctors information that can allow them to provide you with the proper diagnosis and treatment-plan.
Upper back pain doesn’t have to take over your life. The methods found above can help take away some of that pain and hopefully prevent it from coming back. As with all health concerns, it is essential to consult your medical team before beginning any treatment regimen.
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