You may be one of those who sits in front of the computer all day. Because you’re too wrapped up with work, you barely stand up to take a break. You clock out and go home later. Pain in the neck or back-breaking? I’m not referring to your work. I meant it, literally.
Neck and low back pain are included in the 2015-2020 United States Bone and Joint (UBJI) Initiative of the Global Alliance for Musculoskeletal Health (G-MUSC). The United Nations/World Health Organization authorized this international movement to promote musculoskeletal health. According to the UBJI (UBJI, n.d.):
- 50% of disabling health conditions of adults are musculoskeletal diseases
- 364 workdays lost or an average of 10 days for a worker, more than any other major health condition in 2015
- 33.9% of people 18 years and above reported back pain in 2013-2015
- Of the 33.9%, the most common is low back pain at 28.5% followed by neck pain at 15%
Causes of neck and back pain
About 21.4 million adults aged 18 to 64 years with neck pain visited a healthcare facility in 2013 (UBJI, n.d.). For back pain, 57.1 million people complained of it with about 12-14% visiting a healthcare facility (UBJI, n.d.).
Low back pain and neck pain or stiff neck of working adults may be due to many reasons. Low back pain may be caused by pulled or strained muscles from overstretching or overuse with repetitive movements. Other causes are more serious like lumbar disc degeneration, degenerative disc disease, and osteoarthritis.
For neck pain, the common causes are poor support or posture, overstretching, and overstaying in an awkward position. Cervical osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, and herniated disc are the more serious causes.
These conditions and serious diseases are part of spine disorders. Let’s prevent you from becoming part of the statistics. To prevent neck pain and low back pain, here are 10 tips for a healthy spine for a working adult like you.
10 tips for a healthy spine
- Set up an ergonomic work environment
Neck pain is caused by a forward bent posture, sitting posture, and working in the same position for a prolonged time (Cagnie et al., 2007). The researchers of the study recommended intervention strategies such as setting up an ergonomic work environment. This helps reduce neck pain as well as lower back pain. Make sure your table or desktop is parallel to your folded arms. To support your back, you may roll a towel or put a small pillow behind your back while sitting on your chair. Your knees should be at the same level as the hips and your feet rest flat on the floor.
- Mind your posture and take breaks to limit sitting time
A sedentary lifestyle affects your spine. A study revealed a relationship between sitting behavior and low back pain among call center agents. The researchers found out among the 64-office workers, 75% reported either chronic or acute back pain from sitting for too long (Bontrup, 2019). Slouching causes a knot on your shoulder and back of the neck. It adds pressure to your lower back when seated, too. You might as well stand up every two hours and do some standing stretches or walk around the office. This releases pressure on your back and spine.
3. Stretch and exercise
Endurance training and muscle stretching prevent low back pain in office workers (Sihawong et al., 2014). You may consult a primary healthcare provider for specific stretching and regular exercise routines for your spine. These simple exercises you can do on your own. These focus on stretching and strengthening your back. You may also consider yoga. The cat-cow poses and bridge pose are recommended by yogis.
For the neck, do the chin tuck. Look up at the ceiling and look down on the floor. Hold this position for 5 seconds each and repeat 10 times. You can also gently tilt your head to the left then to the right with the same count and frequency. Every-now-and-then, it helps for you to turn your head left and right or look around your surroundings.
4. Go for walks and stay active
Your spine is supported by your back muscles. Walking strengthens these muscles and promotes good posture, too. It helps prevent osteoporosis and weight gain, which negatively affects your weight-bearing joints. These joints are found in your spine, low back, pelvis or hips, knees, and ankles.
You may walk to and from the office. Go for a 30-minute walk with your dog if you have one. If you don’t have one, go with a friend. Or, plug some headset and listen to your favorite music while walking. Staying active and doing physical activities benefits people with acute severe low back pain (Olaya-Contreras et al., 2015). Doing house chores and participating in hobbies like dancing also count.
5. support your spine with good shoes and ladies, ditch the stilettos
Thirteen healthy women were studied to investigate the effects of high heels of different heights on muscles in the cervical (neck) and lumbar spine (lower back). The study revealed that the higher the heels, the more demand on the muscles of the cervical and lumbar spine of the women with neck pains (Park et al., 2016). This study was limited to walking only. So, there’s hope for high-heel lovers. But for mobility’s sake, wear footwear that follows the arch of your foot. Insoles for your footwear are also available to cushion pressure on your back.
6. Observe proper body alignment and mechanics
The spine should be in a neutral position. You shouldn’t be bent too backward or forward. This applies to sitting, standing, lifting, and performing daily activities. Avoid slumping or slouching as you do so. This is performed by standing with your feet apart, about 12 inches. Your feet, hips, back, and neck should be aligned as you move. Bend if you must with your knees and not your waist. Do not twist or abruptly turnaround from your waist. If you must reach for something from a higher surface, use a platform or chair. Avoid lifting or carrying hard objects that are more than 10 pounds.
7. Mind your food and hydrate yourself
- Calcium is good for the bones and prevents you from developing brittle bones or osteoporosis. You can get it from dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. If you’re lactose intolerant, there’s soya or almond milk, broccoli, and kale.
- Vitamin D3 also keeps the bones and joints healthy. Vitamin D3 allows for better calcium absorption. It can be found in fortified milk, salmon, egg yolks, and cereals. A simple way to catch vitamin D is sunbathing in the morning before 10 AM…but not too much.
- Vitamin C boosts the formation of collagen. It keeps the body together and is found in bones, tendons, muscles, and skin. Oranges, tomatoes, red and green peppers, and other antioxidants are good sources of Vitamin C. Vitamin C strengthens the spine and helps with the healing of ligaments, tendons, and intervertebral discs.
- Vitamin B12 is required in bone-building and production of red blood cells in the bone marrow. It can be found in fish, eggs, poultry, and dairy products.
- Water maintains the fluidity of your joints. Spinal discs lose hydration and become prone to conditions such as a slipped disc. Go ahead and drink water because it contributes to your spine’s health.
- Shed the pounds
The risk of back pain is linked to higher weight among young women (Brady et al., 2016). Likewise, back pain was associated with obesity among men (Chou et al, 2016). Thus, it’s best to maintain a healthy weight to prevent you from developing back pain. A 20-minute exercise lowers your risk by 32% according to a study in The Spine Journal. For better results, exercise is complemented by proper nutrition. You may ask your primary healthcare provider an exercise routine and a diet plan that best suits you.
- Get a back massage
If you are experiencing occasional neck or low back pain, therapeutic massage works. Massage is known to be safe for people suffering from chronic neck pain (Sherman et al., 2009). A case study also shows that massage therapy eases chronic back pain (Allen, 2016). It has been seen as an alternative to medicine with its short-term effects in relieving chronic low back pain (Chou et al., 2017). Your options include Shiatsu and deep tissue massages. These massages are known to relieve a stiff neck, sore shoulders, and low back pain.
- Sleep in a proper position on a good mattress
A good mattress keeps your spine aligned. It must support your neck and lower back. Should you use a firm or soft mattress? Based on a study of 313 adults in a 90-day period, medium-firm mattresses improved lower back pain (Kovacs et al., 2003). Your pillow should also support your neck curve, which aligns with your torso and lower back.
People sleep in various positions. You may sometimes lie on your back, side, or stomach. A small pillow helps in these cases. If you lie on your back, place a small pillow under your knees. This supports your neck and lessens the stress on your spine. Put a small pillow between your knees if you lie on your side. This keeps the stress away from your lower back and hips. And, put a small pillow under your stomach and hips when you lie face down on the bed. This aligns the spine.
Keep your spine healthy
Those are the 10 practical tips for keeping your spine in good shape. Other than being pain-free, maintaining a healthy spine saves you on healthcare costs. A 2020 study revealed that Americans paid an estimated $134.5 billion on healthcare for neck and low back pains from 1996-2016 (Dieleman et al., 2020). Employers can also save big, by addressing the causes of back pain. The friendly staff of Well Life ABQ are available to give you or your employees advice and answer your bone and joint concerns. You may visit or call them today!
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Dieleman, J.L., et al. (2020, March 3). US Health Care Spending by Payer and Health Condition, 1996-2016. JAMA. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2762309.
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Park, K., Kim, Y., Chung, Y., & Hwang, S. (2016, March). Effects of the height of shoe heels on muscle activation of cervical and lumbar spine in healthy women. Journal of physical therapy science. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4842473/.
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