Is your desk job silently killing your back?
You might think the pains and perils of a failing back is one that's only prevalent in anyone aged above 60. Here's where you're wrong: I'm 25, and here I am, having the worst time trying to tie my shoelaces. In fact, my mum helped me get my sneakers on today, which brings me to a new low.
I'm never once had a serious injury of any sort; more often than not, I'm just chided for crummy posture. I'd get the occasional back aches when I sit down for far too long but nothing that requires me to make a trip to the doctor's. In fact, I turned down a casual consultation from the Head Osteopath at Orchard Health Clinic, Dr. Ryan Unsworth, when I interviewed him last week for tips on preventing body aches by being in a sedentary job (cue the irony), all because I felt perfectly fine.
So when sharp jolts of pain came shooting through my lower back when I got up from my dinner table the exact same day of the interview, it was like the universe rebutting, "Joke's on you, lady". The impact went almost from a zero to hundred, rendering me almost immobile, and obviously scared to death. It didn't take me very long to start wobbling back to Dr. Unsworth. At that point, it was already immensely painful to cough, sneeze, bend over, let alone walking like a normal person.
My diagnosis? Prolonged poor posture, deep hip flexor tension, poor hip and mid-back mobility, and weakness of core-stablising musculature. Following an hour-long treatment session, where I was tugged, lifted and rubbed with caution and care — all to reduce the spasm state of my lower back muscles and to ease the tension on my lower back, it was clear that it was impossible to fix me with just one session. I was told the pain would stick around for a week, but that I should start regular at-home stretches and exercises that would help reduce the strain and strengthen my muscles. My biggest takeaway was that sitting down for a prolonged period of time was almost dangerous — just because you feel at ease and comfortable doesn't mean something calamitous isn't creeping up your spine.
Sure enough, I was one of those that suffered the brunt of it, as others who have sat at their desk jobs longer than myself might have never encountered a back or neck problem. But honestly, from going from zero symptoms to a health scare to come knocking like this, prevention ultimately is better than cure. Especially when the cure isn't one that's as instantaneous as popping a miracle pill. (Side note: I'm feeling better, but it's an ongoing journey with my osteopath.)
Sufficiently concerned yet? Dr. Unsworth shares a few tips and tricks to make sure you keep your back and neck strong and healthy within the compounds of your office.
SIT ON A TOWEL
Roll up your towel into a third and place it at the back of your chair, before sitting back on it with only the bones of your bum. By doing so, your pelvis is tilted forward, and also distributes the weight of your head and chest onto your spine and not just the back of your neck. It's a strange habit to have to explain to your co-workers but this relieves a load of tension.
THE HEIGHT OF YOUR COMPUTER SCREEN MATTERS
Laptop users might find themselves looking down at their screens a lot, which isn't a good thing especially when we find our heads going lower and lower as the day goes by. Try to find props in order to prop up your laptop so that it meets your eye level — if needed, invest in an external keyboard. This reduces the weight on your back and forces you to sit upright.
ACTIVATE YOUR SHOULDERS
Work your shoulders in circular motions, as this helps to take the tension off the front, which also coincides with your back muscles. Easing any joints and muscles at the front will benefit those at the back — after all, it's all part of the same body.
THE SIMPLEST OF STRETCHES GO A LONG WAY
You might not be able to accomplish a downward dog while hard at work, but stretching your chest back and forth, rolling your hips back, and rotating your body movements allow more blood to get into the joints in order to maintain overall joint health.
In need of a body checkup? Book an appointment with Orchard Health Clinic here.