Almost everyone is susceptible to back and neck pain at work, from office workers spending long hours at desks in front of computers to manual workers bending and lifting and service workers on their feet all day. Back pain is one of the most common complaints, with almost 291 million work days lost to neck or back pain in 2012.
There are many causes of back and neck pain, and understanding what is causing it is the first step towards finding something to stop it.
What is causing the back and neck pain?
The most common cause of back and neck pain is putting too much pressure or stress on the spine. This is usually caused by poor posture, whether sitting or standing or lifting, carrying and bending over. Repetitive movements and twisting awkwardly can also increase the risk of fatigue and muscle injury.
Pregnancy can also be a significant cause of back pain, regardless of the sort of work that they do. Standing and sitting still for long periods can be particularly painful in pregnancy, as there is extra weight and strain on the spine, and ligaments are more relaxed. During pregnancy, it is more important than ever to make sure your working environment supports you and helps you maintain correct posture and gives you opportunities for regular breaks.
Is your chair supportive?
If you spend all day sitting down in a chair in front of a computer screen, it will undoubtedly be a factor in your back pain. We all tend to slouch over our desk especially towards the end of a working day, which puts stress on our spine. Choosing a chair that is right for you is essential when it comes to preventing or reducing back pain. Look for one that you can adjust the height of, and if possible, the angle of the backrest and the depth of the chair’s base.
Your chair should support your lower back, and there should be a gap of around 2-4 inches between the back of your knees and the edge of the seat. If possible, find one with armrests, as keeping your arms in the right position can help take some of the strain off your back.
However, if you’re not sitting correctly, it doesn’t matter how good your seat is. Good posture is the most important factor in preventing back pain. Your upper arms should be parallel to your spine, and your elbows should be bent at a 90° angle. Your knees should also be bent at a 90° angle, and your feet should be slightly apart and flat on the floor or raised by a footstool to reduce pressure on your lower back.
Head positioning is also crucial. It is the heaviest part of the body, so if that isn’t aligned correctly, you will definitely feel repercussions on the rest of your body. It should be straight on, and when you are looking at a computer screen, your eyes should rest on the centre of the screen. Workers that use a telephone regularly often find themselves cradled the phone in their neck, and that, even for a short period, can cause stiffness and pain. If you still need to use both hands when on the telephone, opt for a headset.
There are plenty of exercises that you can do at your desk. Your neck will be the first thing to show signs of fatigue as it is supporting your head. Try tilting it side to side and shaking it gently. Stretch the muscles by bringing your chin down to the base of your neck and hold the position for a few seconds. Shrug and roll your shoulders to release any tension.
Treating your back pain
Preventing neck and back pain in the first place is the best thing, but if it is too late for that, there are plenty of things that you can do. Many of us reach for paracetamol or other painkillers to help treat the pain, which can work in the short term but in the longer term, this just masks the pain and the symptoms rather than correct the cause of the pain. For longer term back pain, your doctor may refer you for physiotherapy, to help you strengthen the muscles in the back and help you with postures and exercises. You might also want to look at alternative therapies – try typing in ‘chiropractor near me’ to find a one near you. They focus on manipulation of the spine, using their hands to make short, sharp, controlled movements.