Back pain, neck pain, and headaches. These three common pain conditions affect millions of Americans every day. About 116 million people suffer from chronic pain, with 27% of pain sufferers complaining of low back pain, 15% headache or migraine, and another 15% neck pain.
Some of this pain is the result of chronic underlying medical conditions, and requires a doctor’s care. But in some cases, you can manage pain by taking a few simple steps in your daily life.
If you could do just one thing to lessen the amount of pain you experience daily, it would be to improve your posture. “The human body was designed to be out in a field and chasing down our meals, not seated at a desk, slumped over looking at a computer for 8-12 hours a day,” says Trent Nessler, PT, DPT, MPT, a physical therapist and managing director at Baptist Sports Medicine in Nashville.
But of course, that’s what millions of us do every day. And while you probably can’t change your job, you can change the way you sit. “The average person slumps forward over their pelvis, which puts a lot of strain on the lumbar spine and can add to low back pain,” Nessler says. “We also tend to sit with our arms extended forward, and head projected forward as well. That stretches the posterior structures of the back and can cause muscle tightness in the shoulders and neck, and the forward positioning of the head can also lead to headaches.”
So how should you be sitting? There’s no one perfect seated posture, Nessler says. Instead, find your own “neutral spine” position:
- Sit in your desk chair and roll your pelvis all the way forward, arching your back.
- Then reverse it so that you’re rolling the pelvis all the way back, flexing your spine.
- Go back and forth between these two positions several times, until you find a position that’s right in the middle.
You can also set up your work station for a pain-reducing posture. Some tips from Lauren Polivka, PT, a physical therapist at DC’s Balance Gym and an adjunct professor of physical therapy at George Washington University:
- Don’t work on a laptop.
- Set up your monitor so that you’re looking not straight ahead, but just about 10 degrees down from straight. “You shouldn’t be leaning and rounding forward.
- Add a footrest beneath your desk. “You want your ankles to be slightly flexed. This realigns your entire lower body, putting more weight onto your hips and less on your back,” Polivka says.
Take a few minutes every hour to stand up and stretch, or even just lie flat on your back behind your desk. Or try this stretch:
- Roll up a small towel into a tight cylinder
- Place it between your shoulder blades against the back of your chair
- Gently engage your shoulder blades against the towel roll. Don’t squeeze tightly -- just flex a little.