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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Is Your Desk Job Damaging Your Back?

Does your typical work day consist of eight, nine, or even more hours sitting at your office desk? Do you sandwich this time between a lengthy commute to and from work? If so, you need to think about your spine and the effects this idle time is likely having on your back.

First, Look at the Spine

To better understand what goes on in your spine while you sit for long periods, let’s first look at the spine itself.

The spine has four main parts, including the vertebrae, discs, joints, and nerves. Each vertebra is a separate bone that attaches to another vertebral bone, forming a protective column around the spinal cord. At each vertebra is a joint and between each vertebra is a disc, which acts as a cushion to keep the bones from rubbing together.

Discs tend to be the first part of the spine to show damage from wear and tear over the years. As noted in an article found on the Cleveland Clinic’s website, with age the gelatin-like substance that makes up the center of each disc can dry up, thus hindering the disc’s ability to absorb shock and cushion the spinal bones and joints. This condition is referred to as disc degeneration.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, most people beyond age 40 will experience some degree of disc degeneration due to overuse of and/or strains and sprains in the back. Often people are affected by a specific type of disc degeneration in which the normal water content within the discs is lost. This loss then diminishes the effectiveness of the discs to do their job of absorbing pressure and shock from our movements.

Additionally, sitting still for lengthy periods causes the fluid to wring out of the discs. Couple this with the natural drying of the discs’ gelatin-like center and you have a recipe for back pain and potentially further resulting complications.

“Most patients who have sedentary jobs don’t have the core muscle strength to support their spine properly,” says Scott Goldberg, chiropractor with 212 Chiropractic in Sunrise, Fla. “They end up slouching, which overtime curves the spine like a ‘C’ shape and speeds up the arthritic process.”

Sitting Pretty

To help combat the effects of prolonged sitting, Robin Thompson, OTR, LAP, Florida-based occupational therapist, recommends getting up and stretching every half hour for a few minutes during the work day. If that’s not possible, shoot for every hour, she urges. In addition to moving around regularly, make sure your working environment is ergonomically sound, meaning that your desk, computer, and other tools are fitting to your body’s posture and range of motion.

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“As an occupational therapist, part of my job is to evaluate the ergonomics of the office space,” says Thompson. “A desk should not be too high, as to cause you to strain your back, or be too low as to allow you to hunch. Desks are not one size fits all.”

Thompson (email her) also suggests using a lumbar support pillow to significantly help reduce strain in your low back.

Build a Stronger Core

While making sure your office space is ergonomically fit, you can further help your spine fight the effects of hours of sitting still by strengthening your core muscles—the muscles in your abdomen, back, and buttocks. By strengthening your core muscles you can help your back become more resistant to injury and pain.

Not sure how to exercise these oh-so important muscles?

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“I recommend doing specific core workouts twice a week,” says Goldberg. “The most basic exercises for this are ‘supermans’ and planks. Moreover, during every activity always draw your belly button into your spine, pull your shoulders back and down, and pull your butt in so it is in line with the rest of your body.”

Goldberg also suggests bringing a stability ball to the office and sitting on it rather than your office chair for periods during the day as a way to promote core strength. Because the ball inherently rolls, you have to use your core muscles to stabilize and balance. For those readers who are just starting to exercise, consider saving this tip for a later date when you’re a bit stronger as to avoid any potential workplace accidents.

Address the Pain

If you find your desk-bound job has already caused you to suffer from low back pain, first consult your physician. He or she can determine the source of your pain and recommend the best options for pain management, recovery, and/or prevention of future injury. Your doctor will likely address the topics of office ergonomics and core strengthening. You may also choose to ask your physician about chiropractic care and acupuncture, as both can be a beneficial element of spinal care and well-being.

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“Acupuncture can help by alleviating pain and tightness caused by prolonged sitting, especially when used in conjunction with therapies such as electro stimulation; Tui-na, a Chinese massage technique; moxibustion, heat with the Chinese herb mugwort; and cupping,” says Thompson. “Acupuncture helps to restore the energy flow by stimulating the points in the meridian of the body that are blocked by stagnation, or no movement of blood flow.”

While acupuncturists often utilize thin, metallic needles to stimulate points on the body, chiropractors use hands-on manipulation of the spine to correct the misalignments responsible for the pain. At 212 Chiropractic, Dr. Goldberg often incorporates new, advanced therapies with these traditional spinal adjustments to bring patients optimal pain relief and well-being. Among these technologies are cold laser therapy, decompression therapy, and the Graston instrument. (Learn more about these services on the practice’s website at and click here to read about Ion Detoxification Foot Baths)

“We’re all about wellness,” adds Dr. Goldberg. “We have many patients who come to us regularly for preventive care. So often, people wait until their backs hurt before they take care of it. Just like you get your teeth cleaned regularly to avoid cavities and other problems, it’s important to take care of your back.”

Robin Thompson can be reached at (786) 351-5218.

By Erin King, exclusive to Amplification, Inc. Does your message need to be heard? We can help.