Do you spend most of your workday sitting at a desk? Recent data suggests that approximately half of all office workers are affected by neck or back pain during their career, so how can you protect yourself? Well first it is beneficial to understand some of the factors related to working a desk job that can predispose you to developing pain in your neck and/or low back.

A few examples include:

Sitting posture: As we move further from a neutral spine position, the load on the spine increases. Sitting places 140-150% more load on our vertebral discs than standing, while sitting with poor posture can place nearly 200% more load through our discs than standing!

Ergonomics: Poor office set up can cause unnecessary amounts of turning, bending and reaching, which can be harmful to your neck and back. Seat height, backrest angle and monitor/keyboard height are also potential ergonomic contributors to pain.

Repetition:Frequently recurring tasks, such as answering the phone or reaching for a filing cabinet or printer, can cause muscle imbalances and overuse injuries.

Inactivity: Prolonged static positions are unnatural for our bodies; we rely on frequent repositioning to distribute compressive loads on our joints. Sitting slouched for as little as 20 minutes can increase laxity of some spinal ligaments, which can take 30 minutes or more to regain their previous level of stiffness!

The good news is all of these factors are modifiable and can be remediated. Some of the things we can help you with to help protect your back include:

Strengthening: Prolonged sitting, especially with poor posture, reduces muscle activity and strength in key stabilizing muscles for the spine, such as your transverse abdominus. An exercise program aimed at strengthening these muscles is crucial to supporting your neck and/or low back.

Stretch often:Sitting can predispose certain muscles, such as hip flexors and back extensors in the back and pecs and upper traps in the neck and shoulders to become shortened and tight. Stretching these muscles frequently is vital.

Correct posture: Sitting with proper posture can reduce load on spine and help to prevent common muscle imbalance patterns from developing.

Move frequently: The highest level of scientific evidence available recommends general physical activity for neck and low back pain sufferers. Research also tells us that the human body responds very well to small interruptions in sitting that happen on a regular basis. Standing, walking or sitting on an unstable surface such as a yoga ball are all ways that you can incorporate a bit of movement into your daily work routine. Get up from your desk every 30-60mins even if just for a short stretch break.

Following a few recommendations and making small changes to your daily work habits can help your overall health. Make an appointment with a physiotherapist at Pace Yourself Wellness Centre today (250) 632-5239 for a detailed physical assessment to design a treatment plan to help get you "back on track"!