Lower back pain affects almost 84% of Canadians at some point in their lives. That’s according to an estimate from researchers from the University of Alberta. And it affects Canadians of all ages. Statistics Canada notes that back pain is among the top causes of chronic pain in Canadians age 12 to 44.
So, does that mean back pain is inevitable?
Even a few minutes a day is enough to see real relief from back pain. Think of caring for your back in a similar way you care for your teeth.
Here’s how to get started:
1. Stay active throughout the day
Once we get "in the zone" at work, many of us stay seated for hours. Don’t let physical activity takes a back seat to emails, meetings and to-do lists. Over time, that inactivity can take a toll on your back.
Remember: we are built to move. "Movement is medicine," explains Dr. Tam Pham, chiropractor. "And the more you move the better."
Try simple tweaks to be more active, Pham says. Shifting positions or making time for a light stretch every 20 minutes can really benefit your back. Set a timer on your phone to remind yourself. Or adopt a modified Pomodoro technique. That’s 20 minutes of work followed by a five-minute rest, to build effective breaks into your work routine.
2. Be mindful of your posture
Good posture doesn’t mean sitting up perfectly straight all the time. In fact, holding what Dr Pham calls a "perfect" posture for hours is no better. It can tire your muscles out and lead to temporary aches.
Instead, set up your desk to limit effort and strain. How?
- Keep your monitor at eye level and roughly an arm’s length away.
- Set your chair at a height that keeps your knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Place books or a stool under your feet if they don’t reach the ground with bent knees.
3. Practise posture-friendly exercises
Your core muscles form a “corset” that supports your spine. Dr. Pham recommends simple exercises like these to strengthen your core and fend off back pain.
- Plank position: Place palms on the ground. Align your torso and legs in a straight line and hold.
- Hamstring stretch: Sit at the edge of your chair with one leg extended forward and your heel resting on the ground. With your knee slightly bent, hinge forward at the hip until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
4. Reduce back pain during pregnancy
Back pain is especially common during pregnancy. That’s due to both hormonal changes and the additional weight you’re carrying. That doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to prevent or minimize discomfort. The best approach? Dr. Pham advises staying active with pregnancy-friendly exercise like brisk walking, swimming and stationary cycling.
Pay special attention to your posture if you work at a computer.
Sit all the way back in your chair to support your spine. Try placing a pillow in the small of your back. The constant, soft contact encourages your muscles to relax, helping stave off soreness.
5. Make preventing back pain part of your daily routine
"Mental awareness is especially important if you’re in pain," Dr. Pham explains. "Addressing your pain or discomfort is key. Your muscles will feel looser and the exercises will become more comfortable." Talk to a health professional if the pain is sharp or increases.
Be an ambassador for good back health. Are you feeling self-conscious about doing stretches or posture exercises at your desk? Caring for your spine should be normal, says Dr Pham. You just might set a positive example that benefits the entire office.