An exhausted young secretary sits dejectedly at the office desk in front of the screen with a headset in her ear and sits on an office chair with a hunched back
Christoph Hohl

Christoph Hohl

Back pain from the office job: prevention and relief

 

Back pain associated with an office job is a common and often underestimated health problem in today’s workplace. Millions of people spend their days sitting in front of computers, editing documents and sitting in meetings, all of which can often lead to back discomfort. Not only can this pain significantly impact quality of life, but it can also cause long-term health problems if not properly addressed.

In the following sections, I will go into detail about the factors involved in both office work and choosing the right office chair. It is important to understand that office work and the office chair itself do not necessarily have to cause back pain, as long as you take the right precautions and take care of your health.

 

Can office work cause back pain?

three people in an office seen from above sitting around a table discussing documents, two sitting on an office chair and one kneeling with one leg on the floor

 

The office job, which may seem harmless at first glance, can prove to be one of the main causes of back problems in the long run. Sitting for hours on end, often in poor posture, can lead to significant discomfort. Those whose backs hurt at work know how distressing and uncomfortable this pain can be.

 

The causes of back pain in the office

Why does office work often cause back pain? There are several causative factors:

  1. sitting for long periods:

    Office workers often sit for hours without adequate breaks. This inactivity can strain the muscles and discs in the back.

  2. incorrect posture:

    poor sitting posture is a common problem. Many people tend to lean over their desk or tilt their head forward to look at the screen, which can put additional strain on the back and neck. This can cause considerable back pain.

  3. Lack of movement:

    In many offices, there is little opportunity for movement. The constant sitting and lack of activity can weaken muscles and inhibit flexibility.

  4. ergonomic problems:

    poorly designed office chairs, incorrectly adjusted desks and unergonomic workstations can affect posture as well as comfort and be a major source of back pain from work

It is undeniable that office work can lead to back pain if not approached with caution and common sense. This discomfort can not only be unpleasant, but also harmful to health in the long term.

 

Can an office chair cause back pain?

An African man and an Asian woman sit at a long office table in their office chair doing office work in front of a screen and talking into a headset.

 

Back pain is a common health problem that affects people worldwide. In our modern society, many of us spend a significant amount of our working hours sitting at a desk in an office chair. While office chairs are designed to improve comfort and support in the workplace, the question is whether they can also be a potential cause of back pain.

The answer to this question is complex and depends on several factors. An office chair can certainly cause back pain if it is not properly adjusted or does not meet the individual needs of the user. This is because an ergonomically unsuitable office chair can affect posture and lead to excessive strain on the spine. In the long run, this can cause muscular problems and back pain.

The relationship between office chairs and back pain is influenced by several factors. Here are five main contributing ones:

  1. lack of ergonomic support:

    A young man sits bent forward on the front edge of the office chair typing on a keyboard while staring at the screen

    Ergonomics, the science of how to best design our working environment, plays a crucial role in our daily lives, especially in the office. An office chair that is not ergonomically designed can have serious consequences on our health.
    A majority of office chairs are not ergonomically designed, which means that they cannot be optimally adjusted to the individual needs of the user. A poor ergonomic office chair can lead to an unhealthy sitting posture, which in turn can cause back pain.
    These deficiencies can be easily identified when there are few or no adjustment options on the chair. Furthermore, thin cushions, which impair blood circulation or which have an unergonomic shape can cause pain in your back even if sitting only for a short time.

  2. lack of lumbar support:

    An Asian lady sits on an office chair with a very hunched back, the backrest providing no lombal support and so she has adopted an unnatural posture. She is working on documents and on the office desk.

    Lordosis is the inward curve of the lumbar spine in the area of the lower back. Its purpose is to support the natural curve of our spine.
    Lordosis support, or lumbar support, is important for supporting the lower back and promoting a healthy sitting posture. If an office chair does not provide this support, the lower back will be overloaded, which can lead to back pain.

  3. lack of adjustment possibilities:

    A young blonde secretary is sitting in the foreground of a long office table, while a colleague is also doing office work in the background. The blonde lady has an unnatural posture bent forward with her fingers on the keyboard and her eyes fixed on the screen.

    An optimal sitting position is critical to minimizing the stress on our backs and preventing back pain. Office chairs should offer the ability to adjust to each  individual’s needs.
    A high-quality office chair should offer numerous adjustment options, such as the height of the seat, the adjustment of the backrest in inclination and height, as well as the adjustment of the counterpressure to one’s own weight. The inclination of the seat also affects the sitting position and provides relief of the intervertebral discs. Likewise, the armrests should be multifunctional and adjustable not only in height, but also in depth and width, ideally also with a rotating armrest.
    If a chair does not offer these adjustment options, this can lead to a suboptimal sitting position that promotes back pain.

  4. sitting for hours:

    Two young people, a man and a woman, are sitting on their office chairs and are engrossed in their work. It is already getting dark and obviously the two have been working for a long time.
    Even the most seemingly comfortable office chair can cause back pain if you sit for hours without adequate breaks and do not use dynamic adjustments.
    Sitting for long periods of time puts uneven stress on the spine, especially the lower back. This constant strain can cause tension and pain. It also slows blood flow, which leads to poorer blood supply to the discs and muscles and increases the risk of disc problems and muscle strain. When sitting, many muscle groups are not actively used, which can cause muscles to weaken and be more susceptible to injury. Over time, we tend to fall into a poor sitting posture when we are not moving. This puts additional strain on the spine and increases the risk of back problems.

  5. lack of movement:

    A young man with a beard sits in a stiff and uncomfortable position in front of his monitor and thinks, holding his hand under his chin and resting his elbow on the office desk.
    Many office chairs limit the users’ freedom of movement and do not promote sufficient change of position.
    The effects show up in several ways:
    First, in the stiffening of muscles, especially in the lower back, leading to tension and pain.
    Second, in the weakening of the back muscles that support the spine and prevent pain.
    Third, in the increased stress on the intervertebral discs due to prolonged sitting, which can lead to disc problems.
    Fourth, in the loss of flexibility of the spine and surrounding muscles, which can lead to limited mobility and pain.
    Regular exercise and changing your sitting position are critical to preventing the development of back pain.

In summary, an office chair can actually cause back pain if it is not ergonomically designed and the user does not actively take care to maintain a healthy sitting posture. Consciously choosing an appropriate chair and mindful sitting practices are critical to preventing back pain and maintaining back health. Your office chair should not only be a tool for work, but also promote your well-being.

 

Final thoughts

An exhausted young secretary sits dejectedly at the office desk in front of the screen with a headset in her ear and sits on an office chair with a hunched back

 

Overall, it is clear that office work is associated with a variety of health risks, and one of the longstanding problems is the often-neglected office chair. The focus is often on the design, while the ergonomic aspects are pushed into the background, which can have fatal consequences for health and pre-program back pain from the office job.

Unfortunately, savings are often made in the wrong place, and so many people end up on cheap office chairs that are hazardous to their health. A high-quality ergonomic office chair is undoubtedly the best solution to avoid back pain and other ailments. But for those who can’t afford this investment or are forced to sit in a particular chair, there are still ergonomic customization options.

This can be, for example, attaching ergonomic aids to the office chair itself, such as an orthopedic seat or back cushion.

But also the correct positioning of the monitor or the use of ergonomic accessories such as keyboard and mouse rests for the wrist can actively counteract many ailments.

Consciously adjusting the workplace, taking regular breaks and taking ergonomic measures are all steps in the right direction. It is crucial to raise awareness of these issues, because a pain-free back not only enables greater productivity, but also an overall better feeling at work and in life.

If you find the subject of office or home office ergonomics intriguing and wish to delve deeper, you might be interested in my book titled “Wellness in the Office”. In this book, I offer over 50 practical tips, along with humorous drawings, aimed at transforming your workspace into a small haven of comfort and productivity.

wellness in the office 50 + 1 tips
50+1 tips to make your office a little paradise

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Christoph Hohl

Christoph Hohl

Christoph Hohl comes from Switzerland and is an ergonomics expert. For more than 20 years he has been offering many solutions with different products and many tips to provide more quality of life and a greater sense of well-being. SANTERGO is a special piece of this mosaic.