How to prevent back pain at work?

If you are having sore back, you are not alone – in fact, studies show that throughout a year between 23% to 38% of office workers have experienced lower back pain. What can you do about it?

Do you have a sore back causing you pain?  

If so, you are not alone – in fact, studies show that throughout a year between 23% to 38% of office workers have experienced lower back pain (1). 

One of the main ways to decrease lower back pain caused by excessive sitting during the working day is to regularly move the lower back (2).

Try out video instructed exercise below to loosen tension in your back and keep reading to learn more about:

  • What is causing the pain in your back?
  • Why should you prioritize this during your working day both as an individual and employer?
  • What can you do to prevent it during your working day?

What is causing the pain in your back?

The most common reason for back pain among office workers is physical inactivity, prolonged sitting and incorrect posture. For many it is a combination of these issues, as people tend to slouch over or slouch down when sitting and being inactive for longer periods, both at work and at home. 

Having a bad posture while sitting creates an overstretch in the spinal ligaments and strain the discs and surrounding structures in the spine, which leads to muscle spasm and back pain (3). Also, long periods of sitting compress the vertebral discs in your spine causing your spinal discs to bulge and put pressure on your spinal nerve. This can lead to numbness and pain radiating from your spine (4). 

Why should you prioritize this as an individual during your working day?

If you are working in an office or just spend a large portion of your day sedentary, this is an issue you should consider throughout your day. When first experiencing pain in your back you might not give it a second thought, thinking it will be gone by tomorrow but 20% of people experiencing acute lower back pain continues experiencing chronic pain for 12 weeks or longer (5). Extensive research has shown a long series of negative health consequences related to lower back pain, such as sleep deprivation, depression and impact on overall quality of life. (6) (7) (8)

Why should your employer prioritize this during the working day?

As an employer, you should be aware of your employee’s health and try to create the best conditions for them to work in. Not just because you are required to do so by law but also because this impacts your business in several other aspects. 

A study found that cases of lower back pain causing work disability increased by 12% between 1990 and 2010 and that it accounted for 11% of the entire work disability burden (9). This trend is a result of our society becoming increasingly digitalized and more people having office jobs. 

Additionally, lower back pain was shown to impact motivation to work toward a goal (10) and in a four-year review chronic back pain was found to be the top reason in loss in daily productivity and annual cost per employee, having a bigger impact than mental illnesses and headaches (11).

How can you prevent developing lower back pain throughout your workday?

To prevent developing back pain throughout your workday you should try to avoid slouching down and being inactive for longer periods of time, which is the behavior causing the pain through physical inactivity, prolonged sitting and incorrect posture.

To avoid this from happening, you can improve your work station and work on implementing healthy habits into your daily work routine.

Just as having a comfortable bed is necessary, as you spend 1/3 of your day in it, you need to ensure your work station is comfortable, as this is a place where you spend another third of your day.

When creating an ergonomic workspace, you should make sure both your desk and chair height is adjustable. This ensures you are able to work in different positions throughout the day both sitting down and standing up. When sitting down your elbows should be rested on the table at a 90-degree angle and your chair should support your lower back to relieve tension and stress on your back (3). Standing up for periods throughout the workday gives you a break from both physical inactivity and prolonged sitting.

In addition to improving your work station, implementing healthy habits into your routine at work can be another way to prevent back pain and decrease physical inactivity, prolonged sitting and incorrect posture in your workday.

You can improve on several areas throughout your working day to prevent lower back pain but all health experts and institutions agree on which is the most important: to MOVE! (2)

A great way to get some frequent movement done throughout your workday is to plan and optimize (strategize) your breaks.

Professor in Ergonomics at Cornell University, NY, PhD Alan Hedge recommends taking a short break from work every 30-60 minutes and do short breaks of exercise or stretching every 60-120 minutes while doing sitting office work (12). These recommendations are not only to prevent back pain but are also recommendations on achieving the optimal work flow/rhythm. If a break is not possible, you should at least change position.

To help you do more frequent breaks and find just the right exercises for you, we have more than 150? available breaks on the platform and several initiatives to help you implement it, such as calendar integration, daily break program and much more.

Try one out in the video below with 3 short exercises to relieve pain in your lower back with some of your colleagues, as chances are that they might be struggling with back pain.


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