Office and Workspace Modifications for Back Pain
People thought shifting the primary means of work from a factory to an office would be easier on the body. However, decades of experience has shown the office environment can be as hard on a person’s back as fields requiring a lot of physical labour. Years of repetitive stress from sitting in an uncomfortable position can cause a lot of damage.
People may spend as much time in the office as they do sleeping in bed and in some cases more than that. This underscores the need to have a supportive work environment with a chair ideally set up for a person's back. A few modifications to the chair and desk may make a significant difference in a person's ability to function while they are at work.
Most computer chairs have the potential to be comfortable, but they can also cause back pain if they have an improper fit or are not used correctly. People should evaluate the best way to sit in the chair in relation to the desk. They need to learn how to adjust the base, backrest, and armrests of the chair. They should develop a habit of confirming the chair is ideally arranged for their use each time.
As a general rule, people who spend several hours working from a single environment should evaluate several different aspects of the chair. To avoid causing back pain or making it worse, they should make sure of the following:
- elbows sit at a 90-degree angle
- legs sit comfortably at a 90-degree angle
- calves rest near but not tightly against the chair legs
- the lower back sits fully against the chair back
- the computer screen is positioned at eye level
- armrests sit slightly above the elbow
In some cases, people may need to change something else about the office environment to be comfortable. For example, some people might need a footrest to keep their legs at a comfortable angle. Workers who are much taller or shorter than average may need to raise or lower the desk height to accommodate their needs.
The condition of the chair can often affect how comfortable it is to sit in for longer periods of time. Older chairs or overused office furniture may not be as easy to adjust. They may also lose the ability to tailor the seat to the user. As such, people may want to consider replacing an office chair that is more than a few years old, or one that has been used extensively by several people.
Ergonomic Chair Alternatives
Although the average office chair can be adjusted to provide adequate support for people, there are plenty of reasons to consider an ergonomic alternative. Many options on the market are designed to take the pressure off the spine or provide ideal support for the legs. They may look significantly different from the average office chair, so people should research the different types and try out each one before they make a purchase. What works for one person may not be adequate for another, especially for people with different types of back pain. People should also keep in mind no chair was meant to provide perfect comfort with hours of use. As such, people should still plan to take breaks and get up from their working environment, even if they have an ergonomic chair.
Ergonomic chairs come in a variety of styles and designs. One of the oldest and best-known is the kneeling chair. With this kind of chair, the user sits on a slanted platform and rests their knees against a perpendicular slanted platform. This chair has no back, but its design encourages the user to keep the back in a natural alignment. This type of chair must be sized correctly in order to provide a comfortable seat. Someone whose legs are too long or too short will struggle to stay in it for very long.
Similarly, a saddle chair provides a backless seating arrangement with ideal support for the lower back. This type of chair sits higher off the ground than the average seat, so people’s legs will rest somewhere between sitting and standing. People who have circulation problems in the legs may prefer this type of seat because it promotes better blood flow. Exercise balls provide a modern alternative. These inflatable balls are large enough for an adult to sit comfortably and can support an adult’s weight. People are discovering exercise balls allow them to perform continuous movements while sitting, which can improve circulation and decrease tension in the back and legs.
People who have significant or degenerative back problems may want to consider using a reclining chair in the office. This type of chair works much like a recliner for the home, and may actually be the same furniture. This chair supports the upper and lower back, but also raises the feet and legs. This approach can help people work for longer periods, provided the chair can be adjusted to allow them to see the screen.
Lumbar Support Cushions
People who must use an office chair that does not work particularly well for their needs may want to consider adding a lumbar support cushion to their work environment. These cushions also come in a variety of shapes and sizes. People should confirm they have purchased the right size and they know how to use it properly. Each cushion should position the lower back, and not be tall enough to reach the neck. Lumbar cushions forcing the spine too far forward can strain muscles or cause injury. Products too tall may force shorter people or those with a shorter torso to hunch forward.
Generally, these cushions are meant to be attached to the back of a chair to make an unsupportive surface into a better fit for a person's back. This means the chair itself must have a backrest. Other cushions are meant to be placed on the seat of the chair. These work by positioning the legs, hips, and lower back into a more natural position. People may need to adjust the chair downward slightly for these types of pillows, so their legs remain in a comfortable position.
Sit-Stand Work Stations
Many offices are shifting to work environments with the option for employees to sit or stand as they work. This ideal arrangement could offer a combination of people can adjust quickly so they can sit for a period and stand at other times. When used with an ergonomic chair, people may be able to better manage their back pain without compromising productivity.
Standing workstations can be very helpful in managing back pain, provided they are used correctly. Typically, people should confirm the standing desk allows them to stand completely upright without having to bend over. The desk should provide enough space for a computer with a monitor or laptop, keyboard, and room for the elbows to sit comfortably. People may need to try a standing desk at a varying height to make sure they have it placed correctly. Easily adjustable desks can accommodate more than one person using the desk throughout the day. People should factor in adjustability to their decision in the type of desk. If the desk is difficult to adjust without triggering back pain, or if somebody has to wait for another person to do it for them, it may not be as useful.
Standing desks may not be a practical choice for people with circulation problems or other concerns with their feet. Experts suggest using a standing desk for limited periods of time, broken up with periods of walking or sitting. People who intend to use standing desks on a regular basis should evaluate their choice of footwear. Shoes with a tall or narrow heel may force the spine into an unnatural position, which can cause pain over a period of hours.