Tips for Dealing With Back Pain at Work

January 28, 2022
Dr. Mark Wang is a fellowship-trained and board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon. He dedicates his full attention to working together with his patients to identify their pain source and find the least invasive treatment that works for them.

Back pain, ranging from dull aches to severe pains, can distract you during work and make simple tasks more difficult. Whether you have a physical job that requires extensive movement or a desk job where you sit at a computer most of the day, work can take a toll on you and your body.

When you are in pain, chances are you do not work as efficiently, effectively or comfortably as you would without back pain. There can be multiple possible causes for your back pain. If you suffer from any back pain that affects you throughout the day, here are some tips to lessen the pain, and some stretches you can do to ease the strain on your back.

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Possible Causes of Office Back Pain

Various factors may contribute to your back pain during the workday, including your environment and office-related factors.

  • Placement of Office Equipment

    Office equipment placement is one of the most common causes of back pain in the workplace — it also has some of the easiest solutions. If you sit in an uncomfortable chair at an improper height or keep your equipment too close together or spaced out, you can strain your back from scrunching your body too close or stretching for long periods.

  • Twisting/Reaching Frequently

    If your job includes a wide range of motion and repetitive movements, such as lifting, twisting and bending, you may be susceptible to back pain. Frequent movement can cause back problems such as strained muscles and even cartilage breakdown.

  • Carrying/Lifting Heavy Objects

    When your job requires you to carry or lift heavy objects, you exert force on your back, leading to injury. How much weight you lift, how far you have to carry materials and how often your job requires this type of work will contribute to back pain and how much discomfort you have.

  • Poor Desk Posture

    Poor posture at your desk is another primary factor in back pain. It is easy to slouch or lean your head on your hand while working. However, it is essential to be more conscious of your body and practice good posture to prevent both upper and lower back pain caused by poor posture.

  • Sitting for Extended Periods

    If you work a desk job that requires a lot of sitting, you may experience a lot of body discomfort throughout the day. An inactive job can cause lower back pain from sitting, staying in the same position for too long and not stretching or moving your body appropriately throughout the day.

  • Static Posture

    Even if you do not work a desk job, standing for elongated periods can lead to back pain, especially if you stand in one position for too long. Holding one position for extended periods can diminish the elasticity of soft tissues such as muscles and ligaments in the back. This builds up the tension in your back, causing discomfort or pain.

  • Lack of Exercise

    Whether you have a sedentary job or stand for long periods, you are more likely to suffer from back pain if you do not exercise enough or live a healthy lifestyle. Refraining from regular activity and movement weakens your back muscles and worsens your pain. Not exercising enough throughout the week will cause you to feel the effects of sitting for extended periods or standing in one position. 

  • Stress and Anxiety

    One of the lesser considered culprits for back pain is stress and anxiety. Psychological and emotional factors can result in physical discomfort that manifests in back pain. Doctors attribute this back, neck, shoulder and spine pain to the involuntary contraction or tightening of the muscles from stress or anxiety.

  • Temperature

    Any time you work somewhere with temperatures different than average work environments, you put yourself at risk for back pain. Working in low-temperature environments, such as outdoor work in the winter or extended periods in freezers or cold storage, you may experience back pain. Conversely, working outside or in other areas with extreme heat can cause backaches. 

    These temporal differences most likely will not cause back pain — they will either cause your body to react to the environmental changes or magnify already-present aches and pains, increasing your discomfort while experiencing temperature changes. 

Ergonomics in the Workplace

Despite the toll poor ergonomics can have on your back, most office workers do not practice strong workplace ergonomic habits. We conducted a multiple-choice survey asking respondents to select the ergonomic practices they follow in the office.

The selections, which also serve as an office ergonomics checklist, included:

  • Keeping your monitor at eye level.
  • Sitting in a chair that supports your spinal cord.
  • Keeping your monitor at an arm’s length away from you.
  • Keeping your back straight.
  • Keeping your shoulders relaxed.
  • Keeping your feet flat on the floor.
  • Or none of the above.

We wanted to find out how common workplace ergonomic habits are among office workers. The results were illuminating. 

Of the 1,500 respondents, only 50% stated they work with their monitor at eye level. Another 22% of respondents said they did not follow any of the ergonomic practices listed in the survey when working at a desk. That means half of the respondents work in a slouched position or strain their necks to look at their monitor, while a large number work in unhealthy positions for their back. 

Also concerning — less than half of respondents selected options related to good posture. These options included keeping your back straight, shoulders relaxed and feet flat on the floor. Considering that incorrect posture directly impacts chronic back pain, it is not surprising that back pain accounts for 20% of injuries and illnesses in the workplace. 

For us, these results reinforce the importance of practicing good workspace ergonomic habits. Whether you are working at a desk or building desks for others to work at, setting up an ergonomic workspace is one of the best things you can do to minimize back pain. 

The good news is that setting up an ergonomic workspace is inexpensive and easy to implement. While you will want to invest in a good-quality ergonomic office chair, other ergonomic solutions cost nothing. You only need to be mindful of your posture and to instill healthy habits as you work. Consider setting reminders on your phone to adjust your posture throughout the day. You can remind yourself to:

  • Adjust your chair so your feet are resting on the floor.
  • Move your monitor so you can maintain eye level with your screen.
  • Sit at an arm’s length away from the monitor.
  • Take short breaks to rest your eyes and stretch your body.

Of course, there are various items you can purchase to assist your efforts, but the only essential item is a chair that provides spinal support. 

Choosing an Ergonomic Office Chair

It is essential to have an office conscious of ergonomics or the arrangement of equipment for people. Ergonomics means modifying the work or its equipment to fit the worker instead of forcing the worker to adjust to their environment. When considering the best office setup for you, one of the most significant aspects is your chair, since that is what supports your body weight throughout the day. 

There are many features of office chairs to look at before deciding which one will work best for you. The main thing to consider when choosing a chair is not what is popular or what works for other people, but instead what your body needs to function comfortably throughout the day.

One feature that makes up a good ergonomic office chair is the seat height, width and depth. You should be able to adjust the chair height easily and customize the chair’s height to your body so that you can sit with your feet flat against the floor. This will give you added support and remove some of the strain from your back. The seat should have enough width and depth so you can sit comfortably in the chair with your back against the backrest.  

As for the backrest, you want to make sure you have a chair that supports your spinal curvature with armrests that allow you to rest your arms on them naturally with your shoulders relaxed. 

Another consideration to make when deciding on a chair is its material. You need enough padding that you can sit comfortably without having too much pressure. Cloth and textile chairs are preferable to a hard surface, as they offer more forgiveness and mold to your bodyweight.

Learn More About Maintaining Proper Posture at Your Desk

Tips for Avoiding Back Pain at Work

While back pain at the office or during your workday may seem inevitable, there are adjustments you can make to lessen or avoid back pain. Desert Institute for Spine Care (DISC) has a few tips to help rid yourself of some of the backaches you may feel during work.

Create an Ergonomic Workspace

If you experience back pain from leaning forward or sitting, make sure you practice proper office ergonomics to use your work equipment efficiently and safely.

Many factors play into proper office ergonomics that can help you be more comfortable while sitting at your desk during the day, including:

  • Finding a satisfactory chair height.
  • Using appropriate keyboard and mouse placement and spacing. 
  • Considering how your legs fit under your desk. 
  • Keeping key objects close to you to minimize reaching. 
  • Placing your computer monitor an arm’s length away. 
  • Using a headset or speakerphone instead of cradling a phone in your neck.

Consider Your Posture

Poor posture habits are easy to break, as long as you are conscious of the need to sit or stand in better positions. It is easy to find yourself hunching over your keyboard, leaning your head on your hands while talking on the phone or slouching over while taking notes. Replace these habits by being conscious of how you sit at your desk and making any necessary adjustments. Keeping your shoulders back and elongating your spine can help avoid unnecessary back pain that may affect you during the day. 

Use Proper Movements

Although it seems easier to take shortcuts and use alternate methods to get things done, you need to move and lift objects safely. For example, if you have to carry heavy boxes as part of your job, make sure you use proper lifting techniques to avoid straining your back and causing discomfort. Do not lift things by yourself when they are too heavy because it puts you at risk for injury. 

Another proper movement to think about is how you move when on a call. Avoid tucking the phone between your head and your ear to free up your hands while on the phone. Consider using a headset or speakerphone to avoid straining your muscles by subconsciously moving improperly and unnaturally when on the phone.

Take Breaks to Move

Sitting for long periods or standing in the same position for too long can be harmful. During the day, get out of your chair or leave your workstation to walk around. This reduces the pressure on your spinal discs and boosts circulation. 

Taking quick breaks to stand up, stretch and move reduces physical discomfort and increases overall well-being and task performance. These breaks do not have to be long to be effective. Multi-task by running small errands on your moving break, such as walking to the bathroom, talking to a co-worker or grabbing a bottle of water. 

Wear Supportive Shoes

The footwear you wear to the office has a substantial effect on back pain. Instead of relying on uncomfortable shoes throughout the day, invest in a pair of good shoes that support your feet. You want to have a stable shoe with arch support, comfortable cushioning and the right fit for your feet. While you may think that heels or dress shoes look best with your office attire, they may increase your back pain and be unbearable at the end of the day. 

Listen to Your Body

No one knows your body better than yourself. If you feel like what used to be dull pain has increased to muscular discomfort, it is essential to recognize this and try to diagnose where the issue lies. When you sit for too long, and your body begins to feel stiff, change sitting positions or stand up for a while. Get up to stretch your muscles and relieve tension throughout the day, especially if you feel your back pain increasing. 

Acknowledge how you feel at the beginning of the day and week and note how you feel toward the end. Make any necessary adjustments over time to help lessen any discomfort you may have from your job’s demands. 

5 Office Stretches for Lower Back Pain

If you feel stiff or experience lower back pain throughout your workday, you may be able to relieve some discomforts by doing some mild stretching. We have five easy stretches you can do in the office at your desk. 

  • 1. Lower Spine Stretch

    Sit up straight in your chair with your feet flat on the floor and your legs at a 90-degree angle. Place your right hand on your armrest and raise your left arm straight up. Lean to the right gently and hold for 30 seconds, and repeat on both sides of your body. 

  • 2. Hip Stretch

    Sit near the edge of your chair firmly with your feet flat on the floor. Place your right ankle on your thigh just above your knee. Sit up straight and tall, and slowly bend at the hips until you feel the stretch in your right hip. Hold this pose for 30 seconds and repeat with your left leg. 

  • 3. Seated Hamstring Stretch

    Start on the edge of your seat. Place one foot flat on the ground and extend the other out in front of you with your heel on the floor. Keeping your spine straight, bend at the hips and stretch your arms down your extended leg until you feel the stretch in your hamstring. Hold the pose for 30 seconds, keep your back straight as you sit up and repeat on the other leg. 

  • 4. Standing Trunk Extension

    Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and place your hands on the small of your back for support. Lean back slowly until you feel a stretch in your abdomen and lower back. Hold the pose for 15-20 seconds, and then repeat the motion two or three times per session. 

  • 5. Seated Knee-to-Chest Stretch

    While sitting in your chair, raise one knee until you can grasp it with both hands. Pull your knee up toward your chest until you feel the stretch in your lower back and hips. Rest your hands on your shin or the top of your knee and hold the pose for 30 seconds on each side. 

Schedule an Appointment to Evaluate Your Persistent Office Back Pain

If you experience back pain that inhibits your everyday life and makes getting work done hard, work with Desert Institute for Spine Care to evaluate your back pain today.

DISC is a leader in minimally invasive care for various spinal conditions with trained professionals who take pride in helping you relieve your back pain. With patients worldwide coming to us, we take pride in our dedication to our patients, helping to coordinate your care from start to finish. 

Schedule an appointment online today so we can evaluate your back pain and figure out what next steps to take for you to achieve a healthier and happier lifestyle without back pain.

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