Looking after your back – Sitting right at the office!

My mother use to say, “Don’t sit on your legs. It will give you varicose veins.”

Turns out I was right. It doesn’t. But I wished I’d followed my mother’s advice. My poor sitting technique has contributed to my bad back. And we all know how hard bad habits are to replace, even if you know those habits contribute to pain and illness.

As each episode of back pain returns, it is lasting longer. And I am taking longer to recover. So here is what I am doing to help avoid back pain. Hope it helps someone.

The thing that is having the biggest impact is changing how I sit, especially at work. I have had a Work, Health and Safety Officer evaluate my chair, desk and work practices. I would have laughed a few years ago (What you need someone to tell you how to sit? Oh the arrogance of youth!) but the advice has been fantastic. OK, OK, it’s the same thing as my osteopath and my chiropractor and my massage therapist and my mother have said. And stuff I knew anyway, but now I am prepared to listen to, and heed, the advice.

1. No tucking your legs under yourself. Turns out this twists your body and because you tend to do it in one direction, you cause all sorts of tension and compensation!

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2. No sitting for extended time. This is a biggie. Do whatever you can to ensure you move at least every 20 minutes: Use a kitchen timer to remind yourself to get up. Install a widget on your work computer that pops up little reminders during the day. You can get it here: Sit Right. It says things like “Walk to your office door” or “How about doing some stretches.” Stand when talking on the phone. Ask people if they mind if you walk together somewhere, eg the office kitchen or just down the corridor, while you talk.

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3. Adjust your work station so you can sit up “straight” (like your mother told you).
OK, this is a continuation of the first point. But that first point was a particular problem with me. I thought it was comfortable. Turns out is was causing discomfort and I had to return to the legs under position to ease the asymmetry I had caused in my hips by sitting like that. So what is sitting up straight? It is not hunching! And not leaning forward! And not having your hips and knees at angles less than 90°!

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My WHS Officer moved my mouse forward, raised my monitor, moved my phone closer. All only slight adjustments, but they made a big impact on how I had to reach and the stress put on my back. But the biggest change was having the chair at the right height. I now know to raise and lower my chair for computer use or desk use, so that I can sit up straight and not be hunched. For years I have kept the chair at the one height! I thought leaning forward was how you worked when reading and writing. Here’s a good checklist:

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Good thing about that Sit Right widget is, it also offers reminders about the way you sit! “Are your hips, knees and elbows at open angles? Adjust them now.”

4. Let the chair do its job. I really love this bit of advice! Do you perch on the front edge of chair, because you “know” you have to hop up shortly? But then that shortly turns into a long time. Do you sit in the chair but don’t use the back rest? Well, your back shouldn’t be doing all this work. Adjust the chair so the back rest supports your lower back, and the seat is st the right height. Then sit into it and let the chair hug you. You will feel your back release when you let the chair do its job of supporting you.

5. Don’t cradle the phone in your neck. Come on! Enough said.

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6. Don’t twist. When I had people to see, but they needed information that I had on my computer, I would face them but twist to read my monitor. Now I say, “Sorry, I have to look at the monitor.” And move my whole body to face the monitor. Same with the phone. I would answer it and twist my body to view the monitor. Dreadfully multi-tasking!

If you’re young, you probably haven’t kept reading until here. You probably thought, “Old age, not me, nag, nag, stuff and junk and this and things”. But if you have a sedentary job, don’t wait until pain forces you to sit right. And if you suffer from a back pain and work in an office, I hope some of this helps. It is helping me.

Sources/disclaimer: I am not a chiropractor and am not sponsored by a chiropractor. The Sit Right widget was recommended by the chiropractic practice I attend. The widget and all the images I have used on this post come from this site of the Chiropractors’ Association of Australia.

4 thoughts on “Looking after your back – Sitting right at the office!

  1. Well, this post made me turn around and sit straight! Good reminder. Lap tops must be evil for backs, especially when one reads them in bed…

  2. I’m young (relatively) but this is already topical for me. Before I broke a shoulder I was having physio for pain in the same shoulder (two for one deal). I have started using a lumbar roll in the car and at my desk (well in the last few weeks I have rejected them). It’s such a ‘pain’ in the neck when things get out of alignment, but it’s so hard to maintain good posture regularly – 5 seconds and you’ve forgotten (AGAIN!)

    • If your job is largely desk bound, try the widget. Because you are right: it’s so easy to forget and revert to bad habits. The little reminders help. And ouch! A broken shoulder!!! Bet it made the pain you already had before the break feel like nothing?

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