Office hours and back pain
Long office hours often mean long hours of sitting in a chair in the same position, day after day, week after week, and year after year. Unfortunately, sitting in a regular office chair for hours at a time can cause back pain and even back or neck problems. These problems can even become serious if they are exacerbated for months or years without any attempt at treatment or alleviation. The reason that sitting in an office chair can cause these back problems is that sitting in the typical office chair positions increases the amount of stress on a person’s body–including their back, neck, arms and legs, and shoulders. In particular, the back muscles can experience large amounts of pressure, leading to back spasms or general back pain. These problems are only exacerbated by a person’s natural tendency to slouch when sitting in an office chair for an extended period of time. Slouching may ease the pain on the surface, but this particular posture actually strains spinal discs and can lead to damage to the spine and back or neck pain over time.
Thankfully, there are ways to avoid this office chair pain and decrease the risk for back pain when working in an office for long hours.
Ergonomic seating and back pain
Ergonomic seating is seating that is designed to maximize back support and ensure that good posture is maintained while in a seating position. Ergonomic seating is meant to be adjusted to a person’s individual body, which will not only improve physical comfort but greatly reduce the strain and stressed added to an individual’s back, neck and shoulders. Ergonomic seating is meant to be used in conjunction with a properly adjusted office workstation, which not only uses ergonomic chairs to improve posture but ensures that the various tools used in the workstation—such as the computer, computer mouse, and keyboard—are placed just right to avoid additional stress on muscles, joints, and the overall body. This type of arrangement ensures that the elbow, thigh, calf, lower back, arms and eye level are at the “just right” position for full and proper support.
It is not enough just to use ergonomic seating, however, although it does greatly reduce the risk of back pain and stress. Sitting in one position for a long period of time, or prolonged static posture, is not healthy for the back, neck or shoulders. In order to avoid maintaining a static posture for a long period of time, individuals should stand, stretch and walk for 1-2 minutes every half hour. This may seem like much, but even just a quick break (such as walking to the water cooler, or to the bathroom) can reduce the risk of back problems and muscle strain caused by prolonged static posture. If you can spare 10 or 20 minutes of exercise instead of a short 1-2 minute break, this will reduce the risk of back strain even more.
Choosing high quality ergonomic seating
A good ergonomic office chair should have the following qualities:
Adjustable seat height. The height of the office chair should be easily adjustable to allow for quick customization. The user should be able to have their feet flat on the floor and not be forced to have them dangling because the chair is not customizable enough.
A decent seat width and depth. A chair which promotes good posture should have enough width and depth to support the user comfortably and safely. Typically, about 17 to 20 inches wide is the standard. The depth of the chair – or the length from the front to the back of the seat – needs to be enough so that the user is able to it with their back against the chair, while leaving about 2-4 inches of space between their knees and the seat of the chair. Additionally, the chair should be adjustable to allow for forward or backward tilting.
Lumbar, or lower back support, is essential to any ergonomic chair. Without adequate lumbar support, the lower back can experience severe strain from slouching and muscle stress. Inflatable lumbar support is particularly ideal, as it allows for the lumbar support to be adjusted for a proper fit. Inflatable lumbar support can also be purchased separately from a chair, which allows for even the most un-ergonomic office chairs to have a more comfortable and healthy support.
A proper backrest. The backrest of an office chair should be about 12 to 19 inches wide. This allows for the back to receive support and reduce the amount of stress caused by a seating position on the spine. The back support should support the natural curve of the spine, and should be adjustable to allow for proper fit. Inflatable back support is increasingly popular because the back support can be adjusted with a few clicks of a pump instead of fiddling with the gears of a chair. Inflatable back support, like inflatable lumbar support, can also be purchased separately to be used with office chairs that might not be particularly ergonomic.
Types of ergonomic seating
There are many different types of ergonomic seating and ergonomic office chairs to suit just about any office or back problem. They include ergonomic seating which resembles the typical office chair, with properly adjusted backing and cushioning to ensure proper positioning, as well as untraditional chairs like Swedish kneeling chairs, Swiss exercise balls, and chairs with inflatable back support and inflatable lumbar support. Swedish kneeling chairs and Swiss exercise balls are ways for employees to reduce the risk of back stress from a traditional static chair position, but they do require the use of back muscles to maintain a proper upright position while working.
Overall, ergonomic seating is essential to any office and to any office worker to ensure back safety and health. There are many types of ergonomic supports available so ensure you speak to your back support manufacturers before ordering any seating.