When people think of back or neck pain they often think of traumatic events such as motor vehicle accidents or lifting heavy objects. This makes sense because the high forces that the body has to withstand have the potential to cause injury. Interestingly, many of the patients that I see at my chiropractic clinic, with neck and/or back pain, have no known obvious cause of injury. They are typically people with relatively sedentary jobs. They either work at a desk all day (office managers and computer programmers) or they stand all day (cashiers). The forces that the body has to withstand during these activities are quite low but the force is sustained for a long period of time thus stressing your spine.
These sustained positions cause an increase in stiffness and tension which ultimately results in pain. This pain is likely a result of slow accumulation of stress and strain. Often my patients indicate that their troubles started out innocently; pain at the end of the day every once in awhile but they are better the next day. This pain progresses and starts to occur earlier in the day or doesn’t go away by the next day.
My advice, for these patients, is to take mini breaks. Our body is meant to move. As a general rule, we should not stay in the same position for greater than 20-30 minutes. For example, one study found that being in a flexed position (curled forward as in a slouched standing or poor sitting posture) resulted in reduced muscle activity and spasms of the multifidus muscles and inflammation in the ligaments of the spine (less muscle activity likely results in more strain on the ligaments) after only 10 minutes of being in this position. Another study found that even with low intensity muscle contractions from a sustained static sitting posture resulted in fatigue and pain.(Studies quoted in reference)
This is what I recommend to my patients and those who follow my twitter feed. Get your buttocks out of your chair and move. Go for a short walk to get some water or to go to the washroom. Walk to a colleagues office rather than calling them on the phone or emailing them. You can do some stretches such as the ones I recommend to the readers of the
ParticipAction blog. You can also do some of these exercises recommended by Craig Liebenson. If you can’t leave your station make frequent changes in your body position.
Spend about 2 minutes performing this every twenty minutes. To remember to do this set a timer or set up a reminder on your computer’s to do list or scheduler. When the reminder pops up select to ignore the reminder for 20 minutes. Repeat this throughout the day.
I hope this helps in preventing your neck and back pain.
Liebenson, C. Rehabilitation of the Spine: A Practitioner’s Manual,Second Edition. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2007