Lifescript.com—December 17, 2012
Your back is aching, and it’s no wonder! You spend three-quarters of your day either sitting at the office or on a couch watching TV. But you don’t have to just grimace and bear chronic lower back pain. Proper posture, a good office chair and some simple lifestyle changes can bring relief...
How much time do you spend sitting?
If you’re like most desk jockeys, it’s as much as 40 hours a week at work.
So if your office chair just isn’t right, your back health will suffer, leaving you with an achy spine, sore shoulders or stiff neck.
“When a chair doesn’t support your spine, your muscles have to work harder, and you’ll feel fatigued at the end of the day,” explains Paul Cooke, M.D., a physiatrist (rehabilitation specialist) at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
After a while, the vertebrae in your lower back, known as your lumbar, won’t be able to maintain spinal alignment.
That puts more stress on discs and joints, leading to more pain, he says.Later, when you settle into your couch to watch TV, you may be worsening back pain.
That’s because soft cushions offer even less lumbar back support than office chairs do.
But your back health doesn’t have to suffer from long hours behind a desk and on spongy sofas.
Lumbar back support:
The most important function of an office chair is to maintain proper curvature of your lumbar spine, Dr. Cooke says.
Go Chair Shopping
In the market for a new office chair?
Luxury office chairs offer good support, says Dr. Cooke. Some also offer woven mesh seats for better air circulation, which helps keep the skin cool, he says.
But you don’t have to buy a top-of-the-line chair to get good lumbar back support.
Recline: When working at your computer, you probably sit upright. But if you’re reading, talking on the phone or conducting a meeting, you can lean back.
“A slightly reclined position relieves pressure on the spine,” Dr. Cooke says.
Adjustable seatback: For upper-back support, the chair should be high and wide enough for your shoulder blades to rest on, Dr. Cooke says.
Protecting Your Back at Home
Avoid the sofa. It’s not the best choice for sitting for long periods of time, says Dr. Cooke.
“Most sofas don’t offer much lumbar back support, and there’s a tendency to slouch.”
Instead, use a recliner or an easy chair with back support.
Check your posture. Resist the urge to slump down in your chair during a “Real Housewives” TV marathon.
“Have your feet on the ground,” Dr. Cooke says. “And sit far enough back in the chair so your seat makes contact with your thigh muscles.
Recline. Yep, that La-Z-Boy is actually good for you.
There’s less strain on your lumbar discs when you’re in a reclined position, and having your legs slightly elevated can improve blood flow, Dr. Cooke says.
Expensive recliners, advertised as “stressless” or “back-friendly,” are fine, he says, but not necessary.
“Any comfortable recliner is good,” he says – just make sure it supplies some lumbar back support.
Use pillows as props. Since most easy chairs don’t have lumbar support for your lower back, “use a pillow or lumbar roll to maintain curvature,” Dr. Cooke says.
Read more tips at lifescript.com.