Back pain is the leading cause of disability around the world and one of the most common reasons people miss work or school. It is estimated that 80% of Americans have or will experience back pain in their lives and, as a result, lower back pain costs Americans at least $50 billion a year in health care costs.
There are many possible causes of back pain, including arthritis, stress, bulging or ruptured discs and osteoporosis. Bad posture can not only cause back pain, it can exacerbate these other conditions, worsening the pain. This is especially true if you sit in a chair all day for work or school. Exercise, standing and moving throughout the day can help, but sitting for much of the day is just a necessary part of modern life.
Don’t let back pain at the office get you down, follow these tips for relief.
Whenever you slouch forward or slump back in a chair you’re straining the muscles, ligaments and discs in your back. To reduce this stress you’ll need to maintain good posture, which means:
- Sitting as close as possible to your desk with your head upright
- Keeping your upper arms parallel to your spine
- Resting your hands at a 90-degree angle on your work surface
- Positioning your legs at a 90-degree angle directly above your ankles
The best way to maintain good posture is to use an office chair designed to offer lumbar support and just the right amount of cushioning so that you don’t end up slumping over your keyboard. Ergonomic office chairs can improve your form and posture, and are much more comfortable than traditional chairs.
You can adjust nearly every component of an ergonomic chair, including the seat height, back rest, back angle, arm support and the headrest. Ergonomic chairs also have features like lumbar support, stable wheelbases and swivel bases. This allows you to more easily adjust your positioning as needed.
For an extended list of recommended ergonomic office chairs, see this list of top rated picks from industry leaders and experts.
What about Fitness Ball Chairs?
While they have some appeal, the Mayo Clinic cautions against sitting on a fitness ball for a long period of time as the act of prolonged balancing can actually increase the discomfort in your back. If you have a fitness ball or are interested in trying it for your pain, be sure not to sit on it for an extended period of time.
Massage works to alleviate back pain by soothing tense muscles and loosening knots. It also stimulates the release of endorphins to boost feelings of pleasure and can reduce the level of the stress hormone cortisol, both which help to provide pain relief, promote relaxation and aid in recovery. Consider these popular massage techniques for addressing back pain:
- Deep Tissue Massage – Consisting of slow strokes and deep pressure, this style reaches deep into muscles, tendons and tissue to release tightness and knots. It is the most popular massage method used for treating lower back pain.
- Swedish Massage – Using less pressure than deep tissue, Swedish massage stimulates nerve endings in connective tissues to release tension and promote relaxation.
- Myofascial Release – This style aims to relieve pain in myofascial tissues, which is the membrane that supports and surrounds muscles. Myofascial release works by stretching trigger points to reduce pain and stiffness in the back and around the sciatic nerve.
DIY Massage for Back Pain Relief
Need some immediate relief while at the office? Try these different DIY self-massages to apply pressure and loosen muscles:
- Ball and Chair Massage: Place a single tennis ball on the back of a chair and slide your lower back up and down against it. Keeping a straight back, lean backwards to apply pressure onto the area to loosen up the muscles.
- Palm and Thumb Massage: Position your hands at waist height, wrap your fingers around your sides and press your thumbs into the outer edges of the muscles toward your lower spine. Find the affected area with your thumbs and apply firm pressure, slowly massaging toward the spine.
- Sitting Spinal Stretch: Sit on the ground with your back straight and legs outstretched. Bend your right leg and cross it over your left knee, placing your right foot flat on the floor. Slowly turn your torso to the right, stretch your right arm straight behind you and place the palm on the floor behind your back. Turn until your left elbow touches your right knee and hold the position for 30 seconds. Return to neutral and then repeat in the opposite direction with the left leg.
Delivering a gentle, sustained heat to certain parts of the body aids in relaxation and relieving muscle tension. When heat is applied to sore or damaged muscles, blood flow increases, which speeds up the body’s natural recovery process. Many higher end massage chairs combine the benefits of heat therapy with the on-demand benefits of massage for the lumbar, or lower back region, to relieve back tension and pain.
These heated massage chairs work by positioning heating elements within a complex internal network of rollers, sensors and motors controlled by the chair’s operating system. Some massage chairs will also include heating elements in the footrest to target the calves and soles of the feet. For a review of top heated massage chair options, see our 10 Best Heated Massage Chairs List for 2022.
No matter your type of chair, you’ll want to change positions fairly often, taking a break from sitting every half hour to an hour in order to stretch, stand or walk for a few minutes. Regular exercise such as walking, swimming or bicycling will also help keep your body conditioned and help strengthen the muscles surrounding the back. These exercises also promote good posture to further condition back muscles and better prevent injury.
No matter your approach, a smart balance of occasional activity, the right office equipment and regular massage therapy will relieve lower back pain, support your upper body and allow you to maintain good posture at work.
Author Bio: Jim Coppins, COO
Jim Coppins is a partner and COO of Infinity, which is sold through one of its premiere online resellers, MassageChairStore.com. He has nearly three decades of experience working in product development, sales, marketing, and supply chain logistics for massage chairs and related relaxation products.