Persistent back pain at work? Poor posture may be to blame
Most of us go through our days without thinking too much about our posture. Whether you spend your days at a desk or working in a factory, for a delivery service or any other way you might spend your day, it’s common for our posture to be less than ideal, and for persistent back pain at work to result.
Occupational-environmental medicine specialist Sandra Hardee, MD, explained why your persistent back pain at work might be caused by poor posture, and what you can do to help.
What health problems can be caused by poor posture at work?
“We know that sitting for prolonged periods of time increases pressure to the spine and has other negative effects on our health,” said Dr. Hardee. “But even if your job isn’t sedentary, your poor posture could lead to a wide range of health problems nonetheless.”
Health problems caused or worsened by poor posture include:
- Chronic back, neck and shoulder pain
- Compression of spinal discs that leads to disc herniation or other spinal problems
- Slower digestion with increased gas and bloating
- Decrease in lung capacity impacting breathing and overall health
- Poor circulation and limited blood flow to the limbs
- Greater risk of varicose veins or blood clots
These health issues can lead to decreased work activity, but also impact your overall quality of life, making it clear how essential it is to maintain proper posture in the workplace.
What can you do to improve posture during the workday if you sit at a desk?
“There are several ways to improve your posture at work,” said Dr. Hardee. “Try adjusting the position of the chair and computer screen, taking a short break once per hour to stretch and stand and move around the room. Keep your feet flat on the floor while sitting.”
Dr. Hardee also recommended sitting up straight with shoulders relaxed, avoiding a slouch.
How can those who work in manufacturing or other standing or driving jobs improve posture?
For those who spend their day sitting in a manufacturing setting:
- Sit with your back touching the back of the chair, not bent forward or perched at the edge of your seat.
- Maintain a straight back.
- Keep your knees at a right angle, if possible, with feet flat on the ground.
For those who spend their day lifting, back injuries are a significant risk if you don’t have the right posture. To minimize those risks:
- Ask for help lifting objects that are very heavy, or that have an awkward shape that cannot be lifted safely by one person.
- Grasp the object firmly and place your feet flat on the ground in a wide stance.
- Do not bend at the waist.
- Use your knees and hips to do the bending, with your legs doing most of the work.
- For objects on a shelf or counter, slide the object as close to the edge of the shelf as you can and lift with the object held closely to your body.
Are there any good posture tips for those who drive for work?
“Those who are employed in positions that involve a lot of driving, like truckers or other similar employment, have a lot of the same hazards as those at desk jobs,” said Dr. Hardee. “Most of the same tips apply.”
Truck drivers and others who spend their workday in a vehicle might find it helpful as well to use a lumbar roll to support the curve of the back.
Are there any at-home ways to correct poor posture? Are at-home treatments for poor posture effective?
“There are several helpful treatments you can do at home,” said Dr. Hardee. “Regular exercise can help to strengthen the muscles that support your spine, like the core, upper back and neck. Yoga, Pilates and other stretching-focused exercises that target these muscles can also be very effective.”
There are also changes you can make to your home and workspace, like adjusting your desk height, having a standing desk available, and using a lumbar support pillow or a specially designed ergonomic chair. Posture-correcting devices like a brace or comfort cushion can also help you maintain a straight back.
Improving posture does take some time and effort, but it’s well worth it for the benefits gained in the long run.
Should you see a doctor about persistent back pain at work?
“While it’s true that some cases of poor posture can be corrected through self-care and simple lifestyle adjustments, more serious cases may mean you need to see a doctor,” said Dr. Hardee.
When deciding whether it’s time to seek medical care for back problems caused by poor posture, take note of any particular symptoms, such as:
- Do you feel sharp or shooting pains?
- Are you noticing numbness or tingling in your fingers or toes?
- Do you have increasing difficulty moving around?
These symptoms could mean you’re struggling with a herniated disc or compressed nerve. Without treatment, these conditions can lead to long-term damage and complications.
“The general guidance is to make an appointment with your doctor if your back pain at work, or any kind of discomfort, is affecting your daily activities, limiting your ability to comfortably get around and does not improve with at-home care measures,” said Dr. Hardee.
Your doctor can provide guidance on how to improve posture, suggest exercises or stretches that help alleviate pain or help you move forward with a diagnosis and treatment plan if needed.
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