Health Q&A

How To Sit: 4 Steps For A Healthier, Happier Back

September 3, 2017

Back Awareness Week happens every year from 2 – 6  September to educate and make members of the public aware of the problems of back pain, common causes, management and prevention.

What is back pain?

Back pain is defined as a common musculoskeletal symptom that may either be acute (lasting for less than one month) or chronic (persisting for more than three months).

Back pain is thought to affect between 30-40% of South Africans at some point in their lifetime. In fact, the Department of Health for the Province of Kwazulu-Natal state that lower back pain is second only to the common cold as a cause of lost days at work.

And, those who spend most of their time in an office environment are most at risk. A study by the Division of Physiotherapy at Stellenbosch University found that 45% of academics who are exposed to up to 12 hours of computer work a day suffer from lower back pain as a result.

How does sitting at work affect your back?

How you sit at work can greatly affect the health of your back. Sitting for long periods of time without stretching, or sitting at a workstation that is not properly adjusted, can lead to aches, pains and poor posture.  This is because the upper body is supported by the lower back, so sitting in awkward, non-neutral positions for the majority of the working day can increase the chances of developing back problems.

You might not notice these problems straight away. The spine is often slow to respond to improper treatment, meaning that serious problems can build up over time. Once there’s a problem, it can take a long time to recover. Thus, prevention is key when it comes to your back.

With most office workers using a computer at a desk, it’s important to make sure that your workstation is set-up correctly. That’s why we’ve put together our 4 steps for sitting correctly at work, for a healthier back.

Step 1: The Chair
  1. Adjust your hips so they’re as far back in the chair as possible
  2. Make sure that your feet are flat on the floor with your knees equal to your hips (or slightly lower)
  3. Ideally, your thighs should be at right angles to your body, or sloping slightly down. Adjust your seat height if needed, or use a footstool
  4. Adjust the depth of your seat if required. There should be a two-finger wide space between the edge of the chair and the backs of your knees
  5. Adjust the back of the chair so that it’s at a 100-110 degree reclined angle
  6. Keep the spine in a healthy S-shape by adjusting the backrest so that you feel comfortably supported
  7. Ensure that your upper and lower back are supported. Use a small pillow or inflatable cushion if needed
  8. If you have armrests, adjust them so that they’re level with the table top, with your forearms horizontal and your shoulders relaxed
Step 2: The Keyboard
  1. The keyboard should be directly in front of your body to avoid any unnecessary twisting for your spine and neck
  2. Maintain a relaxed, neutral posture by keeping an L shape between your upper and lower arms when typing
  3. When using your mouse, keep it close to your body and use a whole arm movement instead of a side-to-side wrist action
Step 3: The Screen
  1. Ensure that your neck is in a relaxed, neutral position by centring the monitor directly in front of you, and above the keyboard
  2. Position the top of the monitor around two to three inches above seated eye level
  3. Sit at least an arm’s length away from the screen and adjust depending on your vision
  4. If you regularly use a phone, notebook or other equipment, keep them easily within arm’s reach so that you don’t need to bend, stretch or twist to get to them
Step 4: Breaks

Sitting for long periods of time is not good for the back, nor the body overall. Remember: dynamic movement is vital in giving the muscles a chance to relax, improving your circulation and preventing your back from becoming stiff and tense.

  1. Increase blood flow by moving position every 10 to 15 minutes
  2. Take quick one-two minute stretch breaks every 20-30 minutes
  3. Avoid pain and stiffness from static muscle loading by taking regular breaks away from your screen and moving around. A 10-minute break within every hour is recommended
  4. Try to get away from your desk for an extended period, such as on your lunch break
  5. Set an alarm that will remind you to stand and move around every hour

If you’re concerned about your back pain, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with your local doctor. Call our client services centre on 0860 00 21 58 or drop us a line today if you need help with finding the nearest doctor to you.

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