Managing chronic back pain at work

For those of you that don’t know, chronic pain is not pain that passes after a week or two, chronic pain lasts for 12 weeks or more even with the help of medication or treatment.

We see a huge amount of people with chronic back pain every year. Many attribute this to poor posture or inadequate workstations, but back pain can be a vicious cycle that can be alleviated by adopting small changes and better habits. Below are some of the most effective ways we’ve come across to help manage back pain in the workplace.

Reduce your stress levels

Now you might have thought we would have started with ergonomics, but not many people realise the effect that stress and anxiety can have on the body. Often dismissed as mental health rather than physiological pain, stress can directly impact how we feel and process pain.

High levels of stress affect the autonomic nervous system and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis which directly contribute to our moods and how we feel and process pain.

managing stress at work

If you are under a lot of pressure at work, take a moment to think about your posture. Stress can also cause muscle tension, encouraging us to adopt poor, tense postures as we hunch over and bow the head and neck. We love the headspace app for managing workplace stress, but you can read more tips about effectively managing stress in the workplace here.

If you are experiencing any ongoing pain and stress in your workspace, we would encourage escalating the issue to your line manager or health and safety professionals. Seeking support to help you get better is the first step to improving your quality of life at work.

Changes to your workstation

If you are a regular reader, hopefully by now your workstation has a good ergonomic chair or height adjustable desk. However, you don’t have to be an ergonomics expert to get the most of your workstation:

Request a DSE assessment 

Workstations in the UK with 5 or more screen users are required to have a recorded Display Screen Equipment assessment. If you haven’t had one already, speak to your manager about completing a DSE assessment to help you set up your workstation correctly.

This assessment will also require you to have an up to date eye test to ensure that you can adequately read your screen and pinpoint any visual impairments that your employer might be able to support you with. When struggling to see your screen, your body usually compensates by leaning forward to view the text on your screen. Craning forward over your desk can be conducive to back pain.

Set up your chair correctly

Download your free guides to help you set up your workstation correctly here

Raise your screen

Raising your screen to the correct height will prevent you from dropping your neck to see your screen, this will prevent neck pain associated with straining the neck. A general rule of thumb is to make sure the screen is arm’s length away and to keep the top of your screen in-line with your eyebrows.

Join our free tips emails

Habits are broken by consistently stopping or substituting our actions.  To help remind you to sit better, we’ll send you one email a month to help you snap out of your bad workplace habits. By conscientiously improving your workstation, we hope that you will be able to adopt better posture, and ease chronic back pain in the long-run.

Exercise regularly

Thanks to cars, 9-5 offices, tv’s and dishwashers, we have dramatically reduced the amount of time we spend on our feet. Now we aren’t telling you to go out and join a cross-fit camp, but we are big advocates of squeezing more movement into your day-to-day. Whether that means you drink lots more water to make you walk to the loo more or switch to standing desks (like we have).

Find ways to move around in the office as much as possible:

  • Don’t bring your lunch into work in the morning, go for a walk to pick up some lunch on your break. It gives you a chance to stretch your legs, get some fresh air and helps to boost concentration when you get back to work.

To ease chronic back pain, we would encourage low impact exercises such as swimming, or core strength exercise like pilates to help you support your back muscles without overworking them. When we’re in pain it’s really easy to slip into inactivity and seize up, but you might find exercising actually lessens the pain. You could try some ‘deskercises’ whilst in the office to avoid stiffening upIf you are going to undertake new exercises, and are experiencing any pain or symptoms you suspect might injure the back further, then please speak to your GP first.

Take responsibility 

Firstly it’s important to take on personal responsibility and really think about how you can help yourself. No matter how well your workstation is set up or how much you spend on a chair, it’s up to you, the individual, to address the issue and correct poor habits such as sitting cross-legged, or on a chair that’s not fit for work – It’s up to you to drink more water or ask for support or advice from your employer.

During DSE assessments we’ve come across hundreds of people who suffer from chronic back pain and one of the first questions we will ask is “are there any doctors recommendations that we should be made aware of?” Unfortunately a lot of the time, the people we’ve spoken to haven’t taken that first step and consulted a medical professional. We can’t stress enough how important it is to seek help if you are suffering from back pain on a daily basis without investigating any underlying causes or conditions.

Back pain isn’t ‘the norm’ or something that you should put up with on a day to day basis.

Some other things to consider

  • Smoking can worsen chronic pain
  • Have a balanced diet
  • Consider getting a massage specifically for chronic pain
  • Get a good night’s sleep, aim for 7 hours or more

Further resources:

NHS back pain advice

NHS stretches for back pain

Please get in touch below if you’d like to find out how we can help your company combat back pain

Do you need some advice about your workplace?

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