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Creating a Spine-Friendly Workplace

Where do you spend most of your time in a given week?  Many would say at a desk, in front of a computer. Here’s my question: are you being kind to your back while you do your job, or are you spineless when it comes to watching (out for) your back?

Let me share some tips that anyone can do – whether working at home or in an office – to ensure your back’s health.

First, a caveat. I understand that many corporate environments have protocols about desks and chairs. You can always ask if other, more ergonomic, desks and chairs are available, or even if you could bring your own to the office.  You could also get really bold and ask about the newest kinds of health-inducing office furniture, such as a stand up or a treadmill desk. But don’t be surprised if you get a “no.”  If it’s a real problem, be sure to ask your doctor to write a note explaining your medical condition and why you need special seating accommodations. It can’t hurt.

Take Charge

That doesn’t mean you are powerless when it comes to treating your spine better. Setting up your office work space to avoid excessive back and neck strain is easier than you may think.

Start by sitting in your chair facing forward with perfect posture. While seated, build the work environment around you. In other words, position each piece of furniture and equipment to accommodate your perfect posture. You may need to stack several books under your computer’s monitor to bring it to eye-level. Perhaps a sliding keyboard attachment can make typing less stressful – and that is something that you can easily manage to get on your own, without the boss’s approval.

5 Simple Guidelines for a Healthy Back

There are simple ways to do right by your spine so that you actually feel refreshed at the end of the workday rather than tired and achy. Follow these suggestions to help prevent back and neck strain and pain.

1. Practice safe sitting. Even with the best equipment, if you’re not sitting correctly, your spine will suffer. When sitting, note where your head, hands and legs are. To avoid back pain, make sure you:

  • Sit upright with your back and shoulders against the back of the chair.
  • Avoid holding your phone between your head and shoulder.
  • Don’t slouch.
  • Rest arms lightly on the armrests to avoid circulatory problems or nerve pressure.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor. (Don’t cross your legs!)
  • Relax your shoulders while typing.
  • Consider using a hands-free headset to prevent neck and shoulder pain if you spend a lot of time on the phone.

2. Select the right chair. Use a well-constructed ergonomic chair to help reduce fatigue and discomfort, increase your blood flow and reduce the risk of injury to your neck and spine. These should not be ordered by mail or off the internet. This is one product that should be tried in the store so you know how it feels before buying it. Make sure your office chair:

  • Has a good backrest that provides lumbar support.
  • Can recline. Did you know that sitting upright at a 90º angle is actually not good for your spine? A 100º to 110º angle is better.
  • Is not so high that your feet can’t be flat on the floor.
  • Can rotate or swivel so that you can easily switch from task to task

3. Make sure your desk is:

  • Stable and not wobbly.
  • At the right height — 28″ to 30″ above the floor is suitable for most adults.
  • Large enough for your computer and has surface space for writing and other tasks.
  • Not so large that you have to over-reach to do your work, which can cause excessive strain on the spine.

4. Computer: Since so much office work is done on computers, where your equipment is placed can make a difference in how your back feels when you are at work. Try the following tips.

  • Tilt the keyboard down and slightly away from you for better wrist posture.
  • Make sure your mouse is close enough so that you can use it with your arms relaxed, and let it be as close to your body as possible.
  • Place the monitor directly in front of you at eye level, not off to one side, to avoid neck and eye strain.
  • If using a laptop, consider getting an external monitor or keyboard (or both). This will allow you to move each of these components separately to create a comfortable arrangement.

5. Take a break: Not just a coffee break, but a spine break. Stretch, take a short walk, get the blood flowing. When you are at your desk, avoid staying in one position for a long time. Try switching between sitting and standing.

Finally, while work might be a pain, it doesn’t have to cause pain. Take charge of your work environment. It will be among the smartest health decisions you ever make.

Here’s a summary of good advice that you may find helpful.

Please include attribution to Positive Health Wellness with this graphic.

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