How to Reduce Back Pain from Sitting at a Desk

With the advent of desk jobs and office work, more people spend their days with prolonged sitting than ever before. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2015-2016 found that over 25 percent of participants sat for more than eight hours per day. While there is nothing wrong with taking a load off your feet, sitting at a desk can come with its problems. One of the most prominent health issues associated with sitting at a desk is back pain, which can only get worse if left untreated. Learn more about how to reduce back pain from sitting at a desk below. 

Back Pain and Your Desk

Back pain can come from a variety of factors. Physically demanding jobs that involve repetitive lifting of heavy objects are often at the greatest risk of both accidental and non-accidental injuries. This can also occur with students or jobs that require you to carry heavy bags or backpacks.

However, overactivity isn’t the only way you can hurt your back at work. In fact, sitting still for long periods of time can be just as bad for the back. The human body was not designed to stay in one position. Our physiology requires us to move and stretch and use our joints. Going long periods of time in a chair without changing positions or standing up can put stress on the body. That stress can get even worse with having to work in front of a computer, which may force people to unconsciously lean forward, putting extra strain on the neck, shoulders, and lower back. 

How to Prevent Back Pain at Your Desk

Improve Your Sitting Posture

Start by looking at your own posture. Most people working desk jobs tend to have bad posture or posture that worsens as the day goes. Sitting with good posture ensures that your body is balanced between all of its joints and muscles and prevents you from putting all of your weight on your back and shoulders that may result in a back injury.

  • Start with your feet flat on the floor with your thighs parallel to the floor. This may mean adjusting the height of your office chair or investing in a footrest. Your hips should be slightly higher than your knees. Avoid crossing your legs, which can cause further posture problems.
  • Adjust your armrests so that your shoulders are relaxed with your forearms straight and parallel with the floor.
  • Keep your keyboard directly in front of you so that you don’t have to reach far forward for them. Your arms should be bent at an L shape with your elbows at your sides. Your mouse should also be as close to you as possible and on the same surface as your keyboard. Keep your wrists straight when typing or using your mouse. This may require you to use a wrist pad.
  • Position your screen at about an arm’s length away in front of you. The top of the monitor should be at or slightly below eye level. This may require a monitor mount or stand as a screen that is too low or too high will contribute to neck strain. Do your best to reduce glare on your monitor. This may require you to pull the blinds on any windows. The brightest light source should be to the side of your monitor.
  • For chairs that roll or pivot, avoid twisting at your waist when you’re sitting. Turn your whole body to move your office chair.

Your Glasses

If you need prescription glasses, make sure you wear them to avoid straining or leaning forward to read text on your computer. Use lenses with a blue light filter to reduce eye strain and prevent potential sleep disturbances. If you have bifocals, consult your optometrist for other options. Bifocals may require you to constantly raise or lower your head in order to read what’s on your screen.

Your Phone and Other Common Objects

If your job necessitates frequent calls while simultaneously using your computer, consider switching to speakerphone or using a headset. Constantly cradling your phone between your head and shoulder will put a strain in your neck and misalign the rest of your body.

Along with your phone, place other frequently used objects, like your stapler, pens, planner, and printed materials, within easy reach. Constantly stretching or twisting to reach things can put further strain on your body.

Be an Active Sitter

No matter how comfortable your chair and how perfect your posture, the human body can only tolerate sitting in the same position for a certain period of time, usually about 20 minutes. Try to break up the monotony for proper sitting posture. Stand up, stretch, or take a short walk every half hour to regain some tissue elasticity in the joints and get the blood flowing to your back. Even something as small as walking to the bathroom or getting a glass of water is enough. Moving and stretching frequently throughout the day will keep your entire body loose and limber and can help to keep you relaxed, comfortable, and focused while you work.

Consider a Sit-Stand Desk

Sit-stand desks can help you adjust from sitting to standing on the fly without interrupting your overall workflow. Standing can help to burn more calories and may benefit your productivity. There aren’t any set guidelines for using a standing desk, but bad posture while standing can still contribute to back pain and an eventual back injury. There are impressive benefits associated with a standing desk outside of helping posture and offer a variety of standing desk exercises

Many of the same rules for good sitting posture apply to standing posture.

  • Stand straight with your shoulders back but relaxed, allowing your arms to hang naturally at your side.
  • Keep your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle and your wrists straight out in front of you. Your forearms should be parallel to the floor.
  • Your head, neck, torso, and legs should generally be in the same vertical line.
  • Wear shoes that provide comfortable support and consider investing in an anti-fatigue mat to take some pressure off your legs.

It is recommended to rotate between sitting and standing periodically throughout the day for the best results. There aren’t any set rules for this, but most experts suggest a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio for sitting to standing. This means that for every one to two hours of sitting, you should stand for about one hour.  Besides helping with back pain, standing throughout your day can also help boost your energy at work.  It’s a win-win!

Stay Active Outside of Work

Outside of the office, make sure that you spend some quality time getting physical. Much of the problems with sitting, including back pain, come from leading a sedentary life outside of the office. Try to maintain a regular exercise regimen that is sustainable and works for your needs along with looking into how to exercise at your desk.

To target your back and poor posture specifically, aim for exercises that workout your core, along with your hip flexors and glutes.

Back pain and other forms of discomfort can make your desk job seem like a real slog. With the right posture, exercise, and some alternative workstation setups, you can reduce your back pain from sitting at a desk and focus on what matters.


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