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How to Prevent Back Pain at Work

People who work in certain occupations, such as nursing, are likely to have back pain. But so can folks who work in an office every day if they don’t take proactive steps to protect their backs.

“Most adults have some spinal degeneration, a drying out of the discs and arthritic changes in their spines due to age,” says Alan Hilibrand, M.D., a spine surgeon at the Rothman Institute in Philadelphia and vice chairman of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons communications cabinet. “And if these conditions are aggravated by inactivity, extra weight, or simply lifting something improperly, low back pain can easily result.”

The following strategies can reduce your risk.

Get in shape

Being overweight and out of shape are a dangerous combination because of the stress and pressure they place on the spine.

“Getting in shape by doing aerobic conditioning on a treadmill, stair machine, or elliptical trainer accomplishes two things: It strengthens the trunk muscles so they can support the spine and burns calories, which increases weight loss,” Dr. Hilibrand says.

Lift properly

Office workers may occasionally have to lift a box of files or a heavy stack of mail. Here's what to do:

  • Stand close to the object.

  • Place your feet shoulder-width apart.

  • Bend at the knees and tighten your stomach muscles.

  • Lift with your leg muscles as you stand up.

  • Don’t twist your spine; pivot your feet to change directions.

Do these steps in reverse as you put the object down.

Adjust your workstation

Start by adjusting your chair to support your back. First, adjust the lumbar support to fit your low back’s inward curve. Then, adjust the height so your feet can rest flat on the floor. Place your computer monitor and keyboard directly in front of you.

Stay active

Avoid sitting in one position for hours at a time.

“Your back craves movement,” says Dr. Hilibrand. “So make it a point to take a break every hour and get out of your chair to walk. Doing so will strengthen the muscles in your back and lubricate the spine.”