According to Waddell, the incidence of back pain has increased by fifty fold in the last ten years, and one of the main contributors of this epidemic is an increase in work duties involving prolonged sitting. This makes back pain one of the biggest epidemics in Western societies behind HIV/AIDS. The majority of back problems are non-specific and accumulative, and brought on by the most trivial events (e.g. twisting to pick up an eraser off the floor). With a surge of alternative therapies, conflicting views on what is the best sitting posture, and a range of equipments for back relief and prevention, who should you listen to?
I believe the difficulty in devising strategies for a general population is the individuality and variety of your spine compared to that of somebody else. How my spine moves and works will differ to yours, so it would be bold to suggest one thing that works for all. Nevertheless, the main aims of any strategy to prevent or relieve back problems in sitting are:
- Reduce compressive spinal forces, and
- Reduce muscle activity.
As simple and logical as this may sound, the sitting posture for you should be the most comfortable. It involves assessing one’s spine and muscle activity, from which a trained Physiotherapist can devise strategies to minimize spinal and muscle forces.
Ergonomic chairs, lumbar rolls, and footrests are good if you have trialled them and found them to be effective. They are certainly not suitable for all. Another important point is the human spine is not made to be static. Movement is required for the delivery of nutrients to vital structures in the back, and for the expulsion of toxic chemicals (such as lactic acid) that accumulates with prolonged sitting. No matter how good a sitting posture or equipment may feel, if one sits for the next two hours, one will almost always feel discomfort. Exercise, stretches, and regular movement every thirty to sixty minutes is a basic but effective way of combating back ache from prolonged sitting, and the key is to do it when one has no pain or is least painful.
If you have any further questions, require specific strategies to prevent back problems, or need restorative physiotherapy, please feel free to contact Alpha Physiotherapy and book an appointment on (07) 3279 3871.