Computers are notorious for causing all kinds of health problems from vision issues to poor posture. With more office workers than ever before, society faces endless cases of on-the-job injury that have nothing to do with heavy lifting or equipment malfunction. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent back strain from working on a computer without resorting to surgery or other painful means.
Problems with Computer Use
According to a study from the Journal of Craniovertebral Junction & Spine, low back pain is common in computer users, with over 80 percent of people complaining of back pain after four or so hours of computer use. Unfortunately, nearly 90 percent of people will suffer low back pain at some point in their lives.
While most people don’t see a career in Information Technology as a huge health hazard, computer-related injuries have proven dangerous to professionals at all levels. Back pain is the most common cause of job-related disability, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke explains.
But how are computers to blame for these issues? Sitting at a desk is part of it, sources say. Whether your desk requires you to hunch over to type, is situated at an awkward angle, or lacks appropriate lighting, your entire body must strain to adapt.
If your office chair lacks proper lumbar support and you slouch while computing, your back pain will only continue to worsen. Here’s what you need to know about preventing back pain while you work on the computer.
Strategies for Preventing Back Strain When Using Computers
You might think that sitting up straight is the only way to prevent back pain while using computers, but there’s more to it than that. From proper seating arrangements to the right equipment for your tasks, here’s how to prevent back strain at your workstation.
Properly Set Up the Workstation
Whether you’re working for a company or setting up a home office, selecting the right equipment and setting it up correctly can help prevent back strain.
Seating or Standing Options
When choosing a chair for office or home computer use, look for both comfort and proper posture support. Test out each chair if possible and look for lower back support in the form of a contoured seat shape.
Things to look for include:
- Height adjustment so that you can keep your thighs parallel to the floor
- Lumbar support at the lower back
- Swivel mechanism to avoid straining your neck to see multiple areas of your workspace
If you don’t have a choice over what kind of chair you use, consider choosing a posture corrector or invest in a posture supporting pillow for work use. Inadequate back support combined with an inactive job is a recipe for both back strain and overall poor health, so addressing both factors can help prevent injury and pain.
You may also opt for a standing workstation, a fad that has caught on in recent years. While Harvard Health discredits the myth that standing while working at the computer is far healthier than sitting, they do acknowledge that standing while working may reduce the risk of shoulder and back pain.
With only an 8-calorie-per-hour difference between standing and sitting, you won’t lose weight by standing at your workstation, but you can use a standing workstation to improve your posture. However, you should exercise caution when switching to a standing workstation from a sitting one.
Ideally, you should make the transition to a standing workstation a slow one. Start with 30 to 60 minutes standing per day to avoid back, leg, and foot pain, Harvard Health suggests, and gradually increase the time you spend upright.
Also, focus on holding proper posture when you stand, since slouching will only contribute to your back problems. If you find standing up straight even more difficult than sitting, consider the long-term effects of bad posture and adjust your habits accordingly.
According to a cross-sectional study of 15 companies in China, the most prominent risk factor for employees experiencing neck and low back pain was not having the computer monitor right in front of them. Workers whose computers were placed either to the left or right of center reported more issues than those whose computers were straight ahead.
It’s also a no-brainer to recognize that a monitor that is too high or too low will cause workers to strain their neck muscles for a decent view. Therefore, try to place your computer monitor at your natural eye level and in the middle of your workstation. This not only helps you to focus better on the screen but also avoids twisting your neck and causing pain and damage to your spine.
Other Workstation Considerations
If you spend a lot of time typing or using a computer mouse, consider the location and type of products you’re using. In general, an ergonomically shaped keyboard and mouse will help keep your body properly aligned.
You should also pay attention to your posture as you click and type and avoid straining to reach the mouse or hunching over your keyboard. Being cognizant of your movements is a critical part of adjusting your posture to avoid back strain.
Whether you are feeling the first twinges of back strain or have struggled with it for years, there are plenty of nonsurgical treatment methods that can help. While it’s not always possible to eliminate back pain, these methods can alleviate day-to-day pain as you work on perfecting your posture.
The conventional approach to back pain may include pain relief in conjunction with physical therapy. If you have a muscle strain or are experiencing back pain after surgery, physical therapy can help you regain function and make the pain more manageable.
Harvard Health also notes that physical therapy has just as effective results as surgery does for one specific type of lower back pain. For spinal stenosis, a type of back pain that involves groin, buttocks, and upper thigh pain, along with worsened pain when patients lean back, physical therapy showed the same results two years later as surgery did.
However, physical therapy does not always work for all types of back pain, so your results will depend on the type of pain you have and whether you have preexisting conditions or other factors.
Many core-strengthening exercises benefit back pain sufferers. Overall, the key is to work on building up strength in your abdominal and surrounding muscle groups. This means avoiding jerky movements and adding plenty of stretching before and after exercising. Just walking can also aid in back pain relief, but you must focus on posture while walking, too.
Multidisciplinary Treatment Approach
According to the Journal of Craniovertebral Junction & Spine study, a multidisciplinary treatment approach was found to be better than a traditional treatment approach.
The multidisciplinary treatment included:
- Orthopedic consultation
- Vitamin supplementation
- A diet plan
- Massage therapy
- Stress management
If you have ever noticed that your back pain becomes worse when you experience stress or when you sit in an uncomfortable position for too long, this multidisciplinary treatment approach makes sense. Addressing ergonomics is another sensible angle because ergonomics refers to how efficiently and safely we move.
Fixing Bad Posture for Back Strain Relief
All the ergonomic chairs and ideal workstations can’t help your back pain if you neglect your posture. Depending on how old you are and other factors related to your history of back strain, timelines for fixing bad posture can vary. However, start now, and you may avoid worsening back pain throughout your career.