According to studies and statistics, more than 60% of adults suffer from back pain with lower back pain occurring twice as often as upper back pain. Neck pain and tension in the shoulders are also common. Overall, women suffer more from back pain than men.
Back pain has become a common complaint and many people are looking for a solution or tips for back pain, so they can achieve a pain-free lifestyle.
Table of Contents
Lower back pain
Lower back pain is more common because the lumbar spine is more vulnerable than the cervical and thoracic spine. All the weight of the upper body rests on the lumbar spine and this area generally gets too little movement.
In addition, when sitting for long periods with a rounded back, the intervertebral discs are subjected to one-sided stress, which can result in a herniated disc in extreme cases. The classic lumbago affects the lower back and results from long periods with incorrect posture, overloading of the intervertebral discs in the lumbar region, stress and too little movement.
Lack of exercise plays an important factor in addition to incorrect posture and a hunched back while being seated. I myself suffered from lumbago several years ago, which occurred out of the blue while tying my shoes on vacation. After that, I had to stay in bed for three days until I could walk again to some extent. I was surprised that I got lumbago, since I was already sitting in a top-of-the-line ergonomic office chair and was also doing regular sports. But as it turned out, it was a cumulative effect of stress and, above all, far too little movement in my lower back. In addition, such “illnesses” usually occur during a break, when the body is no longer in the normal everyday situation, as was my case while on vacation. Afterwards, I was treated by a specialist in osteopathy, who demonstrated some simple movement exercises. He made it clear to me that the lower back requires movement to avoid such ailments. He assured me that if I performed such exercises every day, I would not get another lumbago. Since the movement exercises are really very simple and some can even be done in bed and only take a few minutes, I took his advice to heart. Now about 15 years later I still do these exercises and to my great joy I have not had any more complaints with my back. For this reason, I am happy to pass on my experience and recommend that every person gets more exercise for their back in order to relieve back pain and to avoid a great deal of suffering.
However, lower back pain can also be caused by permanent tension in muscles, or wear and tear related conditions such as osteoporosis or joint disease. But here too, exercise is one of the best medicines.
Upper back pain
Because the thoracic spine is less mobile than the lumbar spine, fewer herniated discs or damaged vertebrae occur in the upper back. However, due to less mobility, tension and upper back pain can occur more quickly. Most often this is triggered by poor posture, one-sided loading or carrying heavy loads, which manifests itself with muscle tension.
If there is a lack of ergonomics in the office, for example, when working with a computer mouse, pain in the upper back is common. This comes from incorrect posture and overloading of muscles that are hardly moved. But also slouched sitting, due to incorrect positioning of the computer screen create discomfort in the neck and shoulders.
Sitting or standing for too long also have an impact on upper back pain. But even well-intentioned exercises on fitness equipment can cause back discomfort if the exercises are performed with incorrect technique. Carrying or lifting heavy objects incorrectly also has an impact on upper back health. Lack of exercise and being overweight are other factors that can lead to back pain, as well as incorrect posture while sleeping, which can be affected by both the mattress and the pillow.
Back pain because of the chair
One of the most common reasons for back pain for many people is sitting for hours on end. From my experience, unfortunately, far too many office chairs still cause back pain. This also happens with so-called “ergonomic office chairs”, because for marketing reasons many things can be called ergonomic. In reality, though, this is often not true and back pain because of the chair is a common occurrence.
There are of course, the truly ergonomic office chairs, which rightly deserve this name and ensure good ergonomics through comfort in a seated position. Thus, pain in the lower and upper back can be prevented.
What is the best way to recognize an ergonomic office chair? The following criteria are decisive for good ergonomics in an ergonomic office desk chair:
- Good back contact with the backrest of the office chair.
- The natural S-shape of the spine should also be recognizable in the backrest of the office chair, so that support in the lumbar region is guaranteed.
- A plus is the individual adjustment of the curvature in the lordosis area.
- Height adjustment of the backrest.
- Dynamic adjustment of the backrest (not fixed) and with correct counterpressure, according to the body weight, so that while moving, constant back support is provided with not too much nor too little pressure.
- Correct seat height: the thighs should be horizontal or slightly raised and create at least a 90° angle to the lower legs, with the feet in contact with the floor. The office chair must have continuous height adjustment.
- The seat depth adjustment on an office chair provides a small or large seat depth, depending on the body size, and thereby enhances the support of the backrest.
- The seat cushion should effectively be a “cushion”. Hard material or little padding should be avoided to prevent the risk of thrombosis when sitting.
- Ideally, the seat should be able to tilt forward and be locked in the desired position. This creates a wedge cushion effect, which is very important for people with a herniated disc.
- Height-adjustable armrests are a must, and fixed armrests should generally be avoided, as they can greatly hinder ergonomics.
- Depth-, width- and angle-adjustable or rotating armrests promote ergonomics on an office chair.
- An ergonomic headrest can be a good solution for people with neck tension. If the headrest has height and depth adjustable, it supports the head in a normal upright sitting position without dropping it backwards.
- The right casters, for hard floor or carpet not only have an impact on ergonomics, but also protect the surface and prevent the risk of the office chair rolling away when standing up.
- Additional depth flexibility in the gas spring is another plus for the intervertebral discs, so that the springing is mechanically absorbed by the chair.
Classic back pain because of the chair could be avoided in many cases if attention were paid to the criteria listed above.
Relief from back pain
Lying down with legs bent 90°, one of the best methods, especially for lower back pain
Lie with your back flat on the floor, on a thin mat, a bath towel or directly on the carpet. Your thighs must now be bent 90° upwards and your lower legs rest in a horizontal position on a chair, sofa, small box or something similar. So your position looks similar to sitting upright on a chair, only everything is rotated 90° and instead of sitting, you are lying on the floor. This position relieves pressure on the discs in the lumbar region and brings the spine into a horizontal position. This position also causes fluid to flow back into the discs, which acts as a buffer and makes up 80- 85% of a healthy disc.
The supine position, is also ideal for lower back pain
The supine position is similar to lying on your back in bed. The difference is that you take pressure off your spine by placing a rolled up towel or small pillow under the back of your knees. The further you push this support up against the buttocks, the more the lumbar area is relieved, but the buttocks must always be in contact with the floor. For further relaxation, you can also roll up a cloth and place it in the arch of the neck to relax the neck. A neck pillow would be ideal here as the head should not be bent forward unnaturally by a normal pillow.
Heat against general back pain
Many ailments with the back come from tension, incorrect posture, stress and general lack of movement, as well as being overweight. It is mainly a matter of tension in the muscles, which can be soothed and relieved by heat. Treat yourself to a warm bath or use a hot water bottle or another heat source to relax the affected area and thus relieve back pain in a pleasant way.
Cold for irritated nerves
If you have lumbago, a slipped disc or sciatica, the nerves are irritated. This acute pain can be better relieved by cold. Place ice or a cold pack on the appropriate area, with a cloth wrapped around the cold source so that the cold does not have too massive an effect. A visit to the doctor is strongly advised for such complaints.
Massage for muscle tension and upper back pain
For muscle tension in the back, especially in the shoulder and neck area, a visit to the masseur can be absolutely worthwhile. With a massage, the muscles are relaxed, creating relief from back pain. However, a massage is not a one-time solution, but should be used repeatedly every now and then, especially for upper back pain.
Lower and upper back pain has unfortunately become an integral part of many people’s lives in today’s hectic lifestyle. Clearly, back pain because of the chair is at the forefront of this. An ergonomic chair is, in my opinion, a must for any person who works in a sedentary manner. If you are still sitting in an uncomfortable and bad chair, then put a hand on your heart and make a promise to invest in healthier sitting at your workplace or at home.
Likewise, incorporate plenty of movement into your workday and leisure time. Movement has the positive effect that you get the time investment back in the form of additional lifesoan. In addition, movement not only strengthens the body, but also the mind.
If the topic of ergonomics in the office or home office appeals to you and you are interested in it further, my book “Wellness in the Office” provides even more tips and tricks. Combined with humorous drawings, I present 50+1 tips to make your office a little paradise.