10 Tips on How to Relieve Chronic Back Pain at Work

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Are you part of the 80% of adults who have lower back pain at some point?

Back pain is one of the biggest causes of missed workdays, workers’ compensation claims, and it’s a very common job-related issue that adults experience. Figuring out how to relieve back pain can be challenging.

Back pain can happen due to general strain from your regular work activities. Workplace back injuries can cause acute back pain ranging from minor to severe. Medical conditions, including sciatica, spondylolisthesis, scoliosis, and spinal stenosis, can also contribute to worsening back pain at work.

Discomfort in your back can decrease your productivity. It’s distracting to have that nagging pain in your back. If it’s severe enough, back pain can also cause missed work.

Finding relief from back pain often starts with identifying the root cause, whether that’s an injury you need to treat or poor posture you need to correct. Adjustments to the way you work can ease the tension that makes back pain worse. You may also need temporary relief methods that are safe to use at work to decrease your pain levels.

Try these 10 ways to relieve your back pain at the office.

1. Improve Your Posture

Your sitting and standing posture affects how your back feels throughout the day.

Keeping your back straight and aligned can minimize back pain.

Sit so your head is upright and looking straight ahead instead of leaning forward or straining. Ideally, you want your head and neck to stay above your shoulders.

Your feet should rest firmly on the floor. If your chair positioning doesn’t allow this, consider getting a footrest to raise your feet. 

Avoid crossing your legs, which can cause your spine and shoulders to twist. This position often causes overstretching of your muscles, which can cause discomfort or pain.

If you have sciatica, sitting can be more uncomfortable. Sitting with sciatica is more comfortable when you change positions frequently. Tilting your seat forward and following the general chair positioning tips can also help.

Posture is also important during any other activities you do at work, such as lifting boxes. Bend your knees to lower your body to the item before lifting with your legs. Hold the item close to your body, and bend down at the knees to put the item down.

2. Get up from Your Desk

Even with proper posture, sitting at your desk for extended periods can cause discomfort.

It can also irritate back injuries that you already have.

Office jobs may require you to sit for extended periods, but it’s important to get up and move around. Get out of your seat at least once per hour, or even better, every 30 minutes, to move around. It might be to get a drink, go to the bathroom, or do a few stretches.

If your boss frowns on taking those little breaks, make them work-related. You might time your trips to the copier with your hourly breaks so you can get up and move around without your boss getting upset. Maybe you need to go ask a coworker a question about something work-related.

Time those activities that get you out of your seat to fall throughout the day. That gives you a mix of seated work time and tasks that get you up and moving so you don’t spend too long in on spot.

Pay attention to your body to determine when it’s time to get up. If you notice your back getting tight or feeling tense, switch gears to a work task that gets you up and moving, or take your next break a little early if possible.

3. Do Some Stretches

Little stretches and movements throughout the day help to release tension in your back, shoulder, and neck muscles.

That relief can help ease discomfort or minimize pain.

Something simple you can do is roll your shoulders forward and backwards. You can do this while you sit, so you don’t interrupt your workday or draw attention. Shoulder shrugs are just as easy and effective in easing tension throughout your body.

Get a little more movement into it by holding your arms out to your sides. Rotate your arms in small circles both forward and backward. 

If you have space, lie down on your office floor flat on your back. Pull your knees into your chest to stretch your back muscles.

Twisting your back while seated can ease tension. Cross your arms and hold your shoulders while you gently rotate from left to right at the waist.

Another seated exercise is to do leg extensions in your office chair. Hold your legs out in front of you while you’re seated. Flex and point your toes with your legs extended.

4. Improve Desk Ergonomics

The positioning of your chair, computer, phone, and other items on your desk impacts your back comfort.

If you have to lean, hunch, stretch, or strain to do regular work activities, you’re more likely to strain or sprain the muscles in your back.

Try these ergonomic changes to your desk area:

  • Position your mouse close to your keyboard to avoid reaching and twisting
  • Sit so you’re about arm’s length away from your computer monitor. This allows you to reach your keyboard and see your computer screen without straining
  • Set up your monitor so it’s about 2 to 3 inches above your eye level
  • Support your arms and wrists with a pad to reduce strain
  • Use an ergonomic keyboard and mouse
  • Angle your monitor so you can read the screen well without straining or dealing with glare

Trust your judgment on what feels good for you.

These recommendations generally work well for good office ergonomics, but you may find slightly different arrangements work better for you.

5. Adjust Your Chair

A comfortable, supportive chair can minimize back pain at work.

If your current chair doesn’t allow adjustments or doesn’t feel comfortable no matter how you adjust it, consider a new one. 

Raise or lower the seat height to put your level with your computer monitor. You don’t want to look up or down at the screen, as that can cause strain to your neck, shoulders, and back.

Adjust the tilt mechanism to get a comfortable position. A slightly reclined position is usually the most comfortable and supportive.

If the chair has a built-in adjustable lumbar support system, try different adjustments on it. 

Some chairs also let you adjust the arm height and width. Supporting your arms properly takes the stress off your back and shoulders, which can keep you more comfortable. Change the armrest positions to provide better arm support.

Another option is ditching the traditional office chair for alternative options. Exercise balls or kneeling chairs may give you a more comfortable position that eases your back strain.

You can also switch to a standing desk. Many desks can change from a traditional desk to a standing desk. This lets you switch up your positioning throughout the day to as tension on your back muscles.

6. Add Lumbar Support

If your chair doesn’t have built-in lumbar support or doesn’t have enough, consider adding in extra support.

The best office chair for back pain is one that supports your back’s natural curve.

An office chair cushion can help support your lower back and align your spine. Even a rolled-up towel is an option in a pinch to support your back’s natural curvature and ease pressure. Adjust the pillow or towel to fit into the curve of your back as needed throughout the day.

7. Improve Strength and Health

It’s not an immediate fix, but strengthening your core muscles and improving your overall health can improve your back over time.

A stronger core makes it easier to sit with proper posture. Stronger core muscles may also reduce chronic back pain you feel.

Any exercises that work your ab muscles help with core strength. That includes sit-ups, crunches, and similar moves. Yoga and pilates also work on core strength and can help you improve over time.

General aerobic and strengthening exercises also help improve your back and core muscles.

Adult exercise guidelines include 150 minutes of weekly moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise plus strength training at least twice per week. Use your lunch break to walk or do other exercises for general health and strengthening.

Regular exercise also helps you reach or maintain a healthy weight, which plays a role in your back comfort.

Being overweight can cause extra strain on your back. That excess weight combined with the regular strain from work activities can make your back pain worse.

One more health factor is smoking. When you smoke, the blood flow to your back decreases. That can cause spinal disc degeneration, and it makes it more difficult for back injuries to heal quickly.

8. Treat Back Injuries

Sometimes back pain at work comes from a back injury.

Whether that injury happened at work or at home, it can feel worse when you sit at your desk all day long.

Treating the injury is an important first step in feeling better at work. The treatment depends on the specific type of injury you experienced. If you’re dealing with a back injury, visit your doctor to have it evaluated and to create a treatment plan to speed up the recovery process.

Sometimes the injury just takes time to heal on its own or takes several weeks of treatment to improve.

Treating a back injury can vary depending on the specific cause. Your doctor may send you to physical therapy or have you do exercises at home. Prescription medication or even surgery may also be necessary.

Follow prescribed back injury treatments exactly to shorten the recovery time. If the back injury doesn’t seem to improve, check with your back pain and injury doctor to find new treatment options.

9. Use Pain Relievers

While you don’t want to rely on over-the-counter pain relievers for long-term relief, it may be useful if you’re experiencing occasional stronger pains.

Always consult with your doctor to determine the best type of pain reliever for you and to ensure you aren’t relying on pain relievers for too long.

Anti-inflammatory pain relievers can be especially helpful if your pain is due to an injury. Back injuries often come with inflammation, and the pain reliever can ease that.

Muscle rubs may also ease back discomfort temporarily. Keep some muscle rub available at your desk in case you experience pain at the office. 

10. Apply Heat or Cold

If you’re dealing with a sudden increase in pain, you may be able to get some relief by applying heat or cold to your back at the office.

Ice is particularly helpful if you have a sudden back injury. It can reduce swelling and ease the pain.

An easy way to apply cold at the office is with an instant ice pack. Once activated, the ice pack gets cold immediately. You can position the ice pack between your chair and your back to hold it in place.

Heat is often more soothing if you have chronic back pain that’s not due to a specific injury. This is helpful if the discomfort is due to ongoing issues or simply due to sitting all day.

An electric heating pad is an easy option for quick heat. You can also heat up a rice-filled heating pad in the break room microwave for heat. Position the heating source between your back and the chair.

When applying heat or cold to your back, it’s best to limit it to 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Anything longer can cause damage to the skin. Put a thin cloth between the heat or cold source and your skin to prevent damage.

Relieve Back Pain at the Office

Learning how to relieve your back pain can make your job a lot easier and more comfortable.

Adjustments to your working environment can help you improve how your back feels gradually. Immediate relief methods ease the discomfort as you strengthen your back and improve your overall work habits.

If you experience an acute injury to your back that’s causing pain, contact us at 1-800-897-8440 to schedule an appointment with an experienced back pain doctor near you.