Most cases of lower back pain originate from bad posture, standing fixes most of the bad posture, so using a standing desk almost automatically improves your back pain.
Besides using a sit-stand desk, there are lot of small things you can do for your posture - these all add up to improve your back pain.
Did you know? The leading cause of lower back pain is poor posture.
Having an improper posture is more than enough for back pain to develop.
On the long term back pain can turn into chronic pain as your discs get permanently injured. Thus the earlier you notice this issue, the easier the fix is.
Posture is important when you wouldn't even dream about it - during your sleep.
Avoid these bad sitting postures to stay healthy
There are different kind of bad postures, but all of them are bad for your health. The most common ones you'll meet in the office are:
- Slumping forward in your office chair.
- Not using your chair's lumbar support.
- Sliding forward on the seat of your chair.
And then there are some common ones too you might not think about:
- Carrying a heavy bag on one side.
- Lordosis or swayback - when you have a too big inward curve in the lower back.
- Slouching with the shoulders hunched too forward.
- Keeping your phone pressed to your ear with your shoulder.
- Using high-heeled shoes or tight clothes.
Stretching your joints often to the end of the range of motion is bad too.
Having to stretch your joints to the end of the range of the joint's motion can lead to injuries and shortening or lengthening of the ligaments.
That's why having a mis-placed mouse, wrong height for your screen or keyboard can be so damaging on the long term.
Fatigue from sitting all day long can promote injury too
Have you noticed how fatigue will make you slip into bad postures?
Poor posture can lead to serious consequences
Besides pain, improper posture can lead to other serious consequences.
Another serious consequence of poor posture is adaptive shortening
As the pain gets worse, people tend to contort themselves into bad posture to avoid the pain.
This in turn can lead to the loss of the neutral position, which will slowly but surely make things worse.
Adopt a good posture for standing
Getting your posture fixed is not hard! Just by following a few guidelines you can get 90% there.
Follow these to fix your posture:
- Stand straight up with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Pull in your stomach and flex your buttocks to improve your posture.
- Let you arms hang naturally by your side.
- Do not lock your knees - bend them just slightly and use your thigh muscles to hold your weight.
- Use your whole feet to bear your weight, not just your heels.
Do the wall test: stand with your back to a wall. Your buttocks, shoulder and head should touch the wall. If not, change your posture until they do.
- Make sure you regularly shift your weight between your feet.
Keeping your posture right while walking or running is just as important as having a proper posture when standing.
Avoid having to shrug your shoulders to reach the keyboard
Your muscles will be tired from being contracted all the time, and will not have enough power left to help you keep a good posture.
Your keyboard should be just high enough that your elbow is at 90..120 degrees when reaching for them. For most people the ideal keyboard height is about an inch above the hips.
Move your weight between your legs, using a footstool helps with fatigue and posture
Moving your legs around will prevent strain from being stuck in a static position, and helps with the circulation too.
Do not lean for the screen
Screen-eye distance counts too! If your screen is too far away you'll compensate by moving your head forward. Solve this by moving your screen closer, just as close as it's comfortable for you.
Two tier standing desks and stand-only workstations with integrated monitor holder are great to get the screen-height issue sorted.
Use your laptop with external screen or keyboard
One of the reasons while laptops are not ergonomic at all is that either the keyboard is in a good position, but the screen is badly placed, or the screen is at the right height but the keyboard is too high up. Both can lead to back pain.
Adopt a good posture for sitting
Besides having a good posture while standing, it's also important to keep a good posture while sitting in your chair.
- The chair should have a high back, and it should be firm.
- Armrests are a must.
- If your chair can roll and pivot use it! Do not twist your body.
- Keep your elbows at about 90 degrees - adjust your chair's and desktop's height.
- Your knees should be at the level of your hips.
- Keep your feet planted on the floor. If your chair's too high use a footrest.
- Keep your shoulders straight and relaxed.
- Keep your upper back and neck comfortably straight.
- Sitting too long is bad for your back. Make sure you get enough standing time.
- Do not cross your legs. While this feels good in the short run, it cuts of your circulation.
The chair's back should follow your lower back's curve. If it does not use a small pillow, or roll up a towel to support your lower back.
- Backrest height.
- Backrest angle.
- Seat height (pneumatic).
- Arm height adjustment.
- Tilt controls: tilt tension adjustment and tilt lock. These help you tilt forward and back in your chair.
Make sure the chair's controls are convenient, easy to reach and operate.
Getting a sit stand desk without stabilizing bars between the legs helps because you won't hit your knee/shin everytime you sit down.
Double check that your back is comfortable
- Make sure your lower back and shoulder blades are well-supported.
- Height-adjustable lumbar support is a must - not all people's back have the same height.
- The chair should be wide enough to fit your back.
- The chair should fit your back both if you sit upright and if you lean back.
Will you need adjustable armrests?
Double check that the armrests can support your weight and the chair stays stable when you push down on the armrests.
Will you need a headrest?
While not crucial, headrests reduce the load on your neck and shoulders when you recline - so these can help with your back pain too.
Check your chair's stability
Your sleeping posture counts too!
Having a firm mattress is a plus, but not necessary. In general sleeping on your side is better for your back than sleeping on your stomach. Use a pillow to support your head when on your side, and a pillow between your knees will make your sleep more comfortable.
Your bed could be too worn out to properly support you - dump it
An old bad can cause years of suffering if you are not careful enough. People spend a lot of time sleeping - a bed which is not ergonomic will hurt your spine for 8 hours every day.
Your back will take time to heal, but the sooner you dump your old bed/mattress the sooner it will happen. If you have found a combination you like go for it, even if it costs a bit more than you are comfortable with - in the end you only have one spine, and your new bed or mattress will keep you pain free for years to come.
Use your breaks effectively
To leave your back pain behind build out a mini-routine for your breaks:
- Walk a few minutes, keep your head up, stay tall.
- Stretch your hand towards the ceiling, gently try to reach higher and higher.
- Hold the topmost position for a few seconds then slowly let your arms down again to their resting position.
- Next squeeze your shoulder blades gently together and keep this position for a few seconds.
- Walk a few minutes after stretching and you are good to go.
To this stretching exercise every time you take a break and watch how you sit - the more small steps you can take towards a healthier spine, the better.
Take care of your posture out of your office too
For best results talk to a specialist who can give you recommendations tailored to your specific needs. In general try to keep a neutral spine whatever you do - for example if you need to lift something lift it using your thigh muscles, and do not bend at the waist.
Do not carry bags in one hand
To survive with a heavy bag:
- Keep switching the sides you carry it on.
- Split the contents up into two smaller bags you can carry on both sides if possible.
- Use bags with shoulder straps to even out the load.
- Use a suitcase with wheels and switch sides regularly.
Keeping your abs and buttocks tight will help you improve your posture and lessen back pain
Your abdominal muscles help supporting your spine.
Check your breathing
If you notice that your breathing is shallow, first check your posture, and make sure you are upright enough to properly breath. Once you get your posture right force yourself to breath deeper. Just don't overdo it, give yourself time.
Get professional help to improve your lower back pain
Visit a chiropractor
If you visit a chiropractor you'll get a complete assessment of your body, and he/she will suggest the treatments which could improve your situation.
Find a chiropractor who gives you practical advice on maintaining a good posture. Having someone who just analyzes your posture and points out the problems is not enough.
Get a massage
Massages are very effective at reducing back pain. In the long term regular massages could improve your health and well-being more than painkillers or anti-inflammatory agents could.
A good masseur will work these problematic spots, and make sure you leave healthier than you arrived.
Get the devices needed for a correct posture
There are a lot of devices on the market which can help you improve your posture, and eliminate your lower back pain.
- Posture correctors help by forcing your body into the correct posture. This is something you may not like.
- Office add-ons such as monitor arms, keyboard trays and sit-stand desks help by making your workspace more ergonomic, and improve your posture indirectly.
Get a posture corrector
Posture correctors work by forcing your body into the correct posture, using a combination of straps.
These devices are discreet, you can wear them under or over your clothes and will quickly help fixing your posture.
Get a monitor arm
Adjustable monitor arms help by moving the monitor to you nomatter how you sit or stand. This way you will not have to adapt a bad posture to clearly see your display, but you can keep your posture and move the monitor to the appropriate position.
Get a keyboard tray
If you have a keyboard tray you will not have to contort your arms and wrist to reach you keyboard, which improves the ergonomics.
Keyboard trays open right bellow the desk surface. This means that you will not have to raise your monitor so much to reach the appropriate keyboard-display height difference.
Last but not least - get an adjustable sit-stand desk
You can set the desk to the right height, so you will not have to lean in or slouch - this means you'll spine will have a chance to take up it's natural, neutral shape.
There are a lot of helpful resources on how good posture and standing desks help lower back pain:
- Mayo Clinic has great posture tips against back pain.
- Harvard Medical School has a few posture tips too.
- The American Chiropractic Association has a nice article on the importance of good posture.
- Updesk has a short article on how standing desks help with back pain.
- LifeSpan Fitness has a great overview on the benefits of a standing desk, they also write about lower back pain.
- StandDesk has an article on standing desks and neck+back pain.