Back Pain in the Work Place
Dr. Kathy Gruver
In my practice the biggest complaint I hear from clients is, “My back hurts.” When I ask them if they stretch they typically answer “No” or “Not enough”. And most admit to sitting too much, either at their office or in the car. Here are some back care hints for you sitting people.
Get up and Move
You have to change position and tasks and move your body throughout the day. We aren’t made to sit in one posture for very long. It’s recommended that you take a break at least every 50 minutes. This might be a quick walk around the block or your office or simply a 3-5 minute stretch. Do what feels good and don’t push yourself to contort your body into positions that are painful. Basic moves like touching your toes, bending from side to side and stretching out your arms and neck are appropriate. And there is no reason we can’t stand up during the day to read emails or talk on the phone. We aren’t glued to the chair and have to remember we have other options and need to use them.
Watch your positioning when doing your work activities. Many people thrust their heads forward to read what’s on the screen, this causes sternum-loading and can lead to upper back and neck pain. Move your screen closer or get a new prescription for your eye glasses. Don’t slouch at your desk and don’t hold your phone to your ear with your shoulder. This is one of the worst things you can do for yourself and with phones getting smaller and smaller; it’s even harder on your neck. Get an earpiece or use a speaker phone. Throughout the day, remind yourself to drop your shoulders and relax. Set your computer or phone to remind you to loosen up your body, change position and stretch.
You don’t have to own the most expensive chair in the world, but you do have to make sure it fits YOUR body. We are all biologically individual and what feels good to me, might not feel good to you. If you have the option, pick out your own office chair after trying several options in the store. One that has adjustable arms, lumbar support and seat height is ideal. If you can’t get a new chair, try to adapt the one you have with pillows or lumbar supports. Same thing in your car, adjust what controls the seat has and what won’t adjust, modify with pillows or lifts.
If your job requires you to be seated a lot, pick leisure activities that get you moving. Knitting, video games or checkers is just going to encourage more sitting. Walk, jog, swim, hike or do yoga, whatever gets you out of your chair. And if you do choose sedentary free-time activities, make sure you take breaks to move around and stretch.
No Pain, No Gain
What if even the shortest amount of sitting is a problem for you? It might be that you have a leg length difference. To some degree we all have a shorter leg and it doesn’t usually bother us. But some really feel it and it causes pain with prolonged standing or sitting. A chiropractor or massage therapist can usually tell you if your pelvis is tilted or legs are uneven. If this turns out to be true for you, using a lift in one shoe or a butt-lift when you’re sitting can be a huge relief.
To find your short leg, stand in bare feet and take a small book or magazine about ½ inch thick. Put it under one foot, stand evenly on both and see how you feel. Does it make you feel really crooked or even you out? Try it under the other foot. Inevitably, it feels good under one and horrible under the other. (Usually the short leg is the painful side of the back, but not always.) Now that you’ve determined your short side, use an insole in that one shoe or fold a pillow case and put it under that side of your bottom when you’re sitting. It can make all the difference in the world!
Sometimes your back pain might be simply caused by muscle tension or a vertebrae that has subluxed or “gone out”. A therapeutic massage can help with those muscles and a chiropractor can fix that vertebrae. You may have been told that you have a herniated disc, ruptured disc, narrowing of the nerve passage or some other structural problem. I still encourage trying massage. Even though you may well have those serious structural issues, sometimes it is just the soft tissue that is causing the pain. I’ve had clients diagnosed with herniated discs who are ready for surgery, but after a few massages, the muscles loosen and the pain goes away. I always consider surgery a final resort after trying less invasive modalities.
When we think of back pain, we assume that it’s a physical problem; we sit too much, we lifted incorrectly, we overdid that weekend soccer game. I have to say, I see a big connection between the emotions and back pain. According to Louise Hay’s Heal Your Body A-Z, back pain is associated with lack of emotional support, guilt, fear of money and financial support. I was taught that the low back corresponds with sex issues, money issues and personal relationship issues. And the more clients that I discuss this with are having major problems in one, usually more of these areas.
We might feel “unsupported”, “stabbed in the back”, that the “weight of the world is on our shoulders” or maybe we’re “spineless” or “unstable”. We have a vast vocabulary that supports the idea that the mind and body are connected. I believe that sometimes we have pain in our bodies to bring these emotions to the surface so they can be dealt with. If you have back pain, explore issues of anger and frustration. Acknowledge your emotions, talk them out and see if your pain doesn’t start to subside.
I hope you never have to deal with back pain, but if you do, I hope these hints can help.
Yours in health!
An expert in natural health and wellness, Kathy Gruver has two decades and over 10,000 hours of hands on experience. She has earned her Doctorate as a Traditional Naturopath, her Masters in Natural Health and is pursuing her PhD. She graduated Cum Laude with a BFA in theatre from Point Park University in Pittsburgh and was a working actor in Los Angeles for many years. She served on the faculty of SBBCollege where she taught massage, nutrition and pathology. She has lectured for both the public and universities. Kathy is currently writing two health books and has a Body/Mind/Spirit Workbook available. She also produced, directed and hosted an instructional massage DVD, Therapeutic Massage at Home; Learn to Rub People the RIGHT Way.
Gruver has been featured as an expert in publications such as Massage Magazine, SouthWest Blend, Discover, First for Women, SB Fitness, The Holistic Option, Bottled Water Web, DermaScope Magazine, and Pacific Coast Business Times. She has written over three dozen health and wellness articles as well as business topics. She has appeared as a guest on over 25 radio shows covering topics such as back pain, mind/body medicine, healthy pregnancy, homeopathics, nutrition, herbs, patient advocacy and massage for wellness.
Kathy serves on the advisory committee for The Holistic Option, a website resource for all your natural health and wellness needs. She was their featured expert on a podcast on the Emotional Components of Back Pain. And her business Healing Circle Massage was featured as a Best Practice by Massage Magazine two years in a row.
Kathy has worked with thousands of clients as young as 6 and as old as 103. She has helped people heal, not only on physical level, but emotionally and spiritually as well. Assisting with births, end of life transitions, divorces, losses and celebrations has rounded out her experience and made her a diverse professional that can teach about any healing situation.