We’ve written about lower back pain many times before. Why? Well, it is so incredibly common. Here are some statistics to put the prevalence of lower back pain into perspective for you:
- Ninety percent of people will experience back pain at some point in their lifetime
- Chronic lower back pain has an international prevalence of 23%. It’s the most common type of chronic pain.
- Chronic pain is defined as pain that is present for a significant amount of time, usually more than 6 months.
Its no surprise that prolonged static sitting is thought to be associated with an increased risk of developing musculoskeletal injuries in the back, neck, shoulders, arms, and legs. It is interesting to note that the major cause actually may be more than just a sedentary lifestyle alone being the sole root cause to its development. As we have identified before, lower back pain is best described as resulting from a multi-factorial approach. What this means is instead of just focussing on its physical causes but also incorporating other contributors such as psychosocial causes. Have you never heard of psychosocial causes of lower back pain? Well I wouldn’t take it too personally, quite frankly. Until just recently has this term even become popular amongst those in the know or those who need to know (for instance, practicing ergonomists). Here are some of our past articles explaining what psychosocial risks are and how to identify and manage them:
- Surprising lower back pain risks
- Surprising facts about repetitive strain injuries
- 4 Myths about ergonomic injuries
When it comes to the office, one of the most targeted areas to improve ergonomic risk is the sitting position, obviously because that is where most of our time is spent! The long-standing (or sitting!) recommendation that the ideal sitting posture is ‘as straight as possible’ has now been slowly replaced by the concept of ‘dynamic sitting’ where sitting positions are continuously changed; you’ve probably seen the stereotypical 90 degree sitting posture represented in many ergonomic infographics. There is actually ‘no ideal sitting posture’. Instead of just using one concrete sitting position, this should be replaced with regular movements (aka dynamic postures) and a chair with fantastic lumbar (lower back) support.
Why is literature supporting the idea of ‘dynamic sitting’?
Firstly people with lower back pain usually have a more static sitting behaviour. This means that these people tend to make less adjustments to their backrest angles, fidget less, and sit for longer periods of time uninterrupted. Dynamic sitting simply reduces the amount of static sitting postures with a practical approach. Dynamic sitting can be achieved by the user changing their backrest angle or using their ‘free float’ mechanism, to change where pressure falls on the lumbar discs. Altering of the backrest angle while sitting is recommended because it activates a spinal a unique pump mechanism of the vertebral discs. Many articles have identified that activating this pump mechanism is useful in reducing long-term wear and tear of the discs.
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! The big ‘take-away’ from this article is to incorporate more dynamic sitting into your everyday with simple and straightforward tips and strategies.
Here’s what you can do to reduce lower back discomfort risks:
- Contrary to popular belief there is not an optimal sitting position that should be maintained throughout the workday. As cliche as it sounds, the ‘best posture is the next posture’.
- If you ever find yourself sitting in a leaned forward sitting position, change it immediately! This places a lot of strain on the lower back area. Instead, get into the habit of reclining your backrest between 95 and 115 degrees.
- Regularly change your backrest angle and get in the habit of using your chair’s ‘free float’ mechanism.
- Take regular breaks. For reference, the 5 types of work breaks are:
- Very short pauses (sometimes called a change of posture)
- Micropauses, where workers can relax their arms and hands briefly off the keyboard
- Short breaks initiated by work such as when the telephone rings or chatting with a coworker/supervisor
- Breaks initiated by the workers such as a deliberate change in tasks, such as changing from computer work to faxing, photocopying, of filing
- Formal breaks such as coffee breaks and lunch time
Zemp, R., Fliesser, M., Wippert, P., Taylor, W. & Lorenzetti, S. (2016). Occupational sitting behaviour and its relationship with back pain – A pilot study. Applied Ergonomics. 56, 84-91.