When you think about sick days, what probably comes to mind is having to call in to the office because you have caught a cold or the flu, or because a child or another loved one is ill. But you may not know that the number one cause of work absences actually isn’t an acute illness or injury — it’s chronic back pain. Though “back pain” covers a wide range of ailments, if you work at a desk in an office, cervical (neck) spine pain is the most common issue. Read on to learn about ways to prevent this kind of pain from developing.
Sit Up Straight
Did you see that recent study that showed that constantly looking down at a cell phone or other screened device places an enormous strain on your spine? In fact, going from having the spine in a neutral position (with the head upright) to tilted down places the equivalent weight of holding six bowling balls on your neck.
It’s not just phones and tablets, too. If you’re hunching over your keyboard or leaning in to see your monitor more clearly, you’re doing precisely the same thing. This hunching places an incredible amount of strain on your spine, and can lead to misaligned discs in the cervical region — which can then bulge and put pressure on nerves, causing even more pain. Make sure that you can comfortably sit upright and view your computer screen (or anything else you regularly need to use at your desk).
Do a Quick Stretch
You think of stretching as something that you do to prep your body for activities, not for sitting at a desk. But staying in one position all day can put strain on your muscles and joints, as well as depress your circulation. Taking time out for a quick stretch can make a big difference in alleviating aches and pains — cold joints and muscles are yet another culprit in having poor posture and slumping at your desk. Even just standing up and stretching out as tall as you can every hour or two can make a difference.
Take a Lap
When you’ve got a break, don’t just sit at your desk watching cat videos online. Instead, get up and move around a bit to give your body a break from being in the same position all day. Walk around the block (or even just around your office) to stretch out your back and legs, relieving stress on the spine. Don’t have time to get up? If you have an adjustable office chair, switch the height from time to time so that you aren’t sitting in exactly the same position all day long.
Get the Right Stuff
Make sure that your desk, cubicle, or workspace is set up to help you maintain healthy habits. Check whether your chair is at the right height. Can you place your feet flat on the floor while you’re working? If not, consider getting a footrest. Can you keep your forearms and wrists straight while typing? Adjusting your chair and/or getting a wrist rest can make a difference here. Is your computer monitor at the proper height, so that you aren’t drooping or craning your neck and can look straight ahead? Having everything set up correctly makes it easier for you to practice proper ergonomics.
When you think of work-related injuries, you most likely think of physically demanding jobs—but office jobs can also lead to chronic stress injuries. Taking the time to ensure that your workspace has proper ergonomics can help you avoid developing chronic pain.