Taking Care of Your Back at Work

Having back pain at work is fairly common. But there are ways to adjust your workspace and habits that may ease the pain.

By Emily Gurnon, Contributing Writer

According to the National Institutes of Health, about one-fourth of U.S. adults experience at least one day of back pain in a three-month period. It is one of our society’s most common medical problems.

A good place to start with preventing back pain is through regular exercise, weight management, and, if you smoke — quit. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program or changing your physical activity.

You might think that the people who do heavy lifting on the job are most likely to suffer from back problems. But back pain is actually as common among workers who sit for a long time each day.

If your job demands sitting for a long period of time each day, there are things you can do to that may prevent back pain.

Start with a good chair
Your chair should be a quality swivel chair that lets you work without constantly twisting your back. It should have an adjustable seat, back rest and arm rests. It should have good support for your lower back, or lumbar area. A pillow or rolled-up towel can provide more lumbar support. A chair with a seat that tilts forward is particularly helpful.

When sitting, your thighs should be parallel to the floor. Your knees should be about even with your hips.

Your workstation
Your desk or other work surface should be at a comfortable height for you. Adjust it so it is about elbow height, if you do light duty work.

Your computer should be close enough that you don’t have to twist often. When you lean forward at your desk, bend at the hips. Don’t round your lower back. This will keep it in proper alignment.

Organize your desk so the objects you use most often are closest to you.

Stashing things under the desk? It might be time to pick up. You need room to stretch your legs.

If you have to sit for long periods of time, put your feet on a low stool.

Whether you’re sitting or standing at work, don’t slouch. Your back supports your weight best when it’s not curved.

Get up and move
Walk around when you can take a break. Visit co-workers across the room rather than sending an email. This helps gently stretch muscles, relieving tension.

Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes.

If you have a space to use it in, bring a yoga mat to work. Do some invigorating stretches during breaks.