Back pain and your posture: prevention and physiotherapy

Is your ‘working from home’ office taking its toll on your back?

Perhaps your ‘office’ is your dining table, kitchen counter or even your sofa. No surprises then that lower back pain is on the rise as more people work from home. Lockdown saw complaints of back and neck pain increase by over 50%, according to the UK Institute of Employment Studies.

Even before the pandemic, back pain was one of the most common problems clients came to us with as physiotherapy can help undo the problems caused by poor posture. Slouching and slumping over time lead to back pain. But why exactly does this happen?

When good posture becomes bad

Good posture means that the extensive spinal muscles in your back are working in such a way that they hold your back upright and keep the bones of your spine (vertebrae) aligned. This helps equally spread the force applied on your back by gravity and your own body weight. As a result, the surfaces of your vertebrae, the cushions that sit in between your vertebrae (intervertebral discs), your ligaments and other soft tissues in your back are kept in good shape. 

Good posture takes effort and can’t be held indefinitely, which is why even when you’re comfortably seated with your spinal muscles engaged and your back supported, you still need to take breaks away from your desk. This helps stretch out your spinal muscles and prevents them from tiring out. 

If you don’t take frequent breaks, your spinal muscles become fatigued and you start to slouch. Long periods of slouching apply a constant strain on your vertebrae, intervertebral discs and soft tissues. The pressure on your intervertebral discs and spinal joints is unevenly spread and therefore causes discomfort, pain and stiffness. Meanwhile your ligaments and muscles become abnormally stretched and can no longer support your spine as well as they should, which leads to a dull, achy pain. 

How does poor posture affect your back in the long term?

If poor posture becomes the norm, multiple tissues in your back will be negatively affected. 

Your spinal muscles weaken, providing less and less support to your spine, and your intervertebral discs become stretched, leading to pain and increasing the chances of damaging your discs during physical activity. 

Meanwhile, certain parts of your spinal joint surfaces become compressed, which causes several detrimental changes — your joint cartilage is squeezed and loses water, while the distribution of fluid in your joints (synovial fluid) changes too. Ultimately, the entire biochemistry of your spinal joints changes and this causes back pain.

6 ways to prevent postural back pain

As with most health conditions, the old adage, “prevention is better than cure” holds true when it comes to back pain. As experienced physiotherapists, we often see clients in need of back physiotherapy to correct the effects of poor posture. But you can take steps to avoid postural back pain setting in. Here are our top 6 tips: 

#1 

Properly set up your work desk

Ensure that you can sit upright on a height-adjustable chair, with a 90° bend at your ankles, knees and hips, and your screen at eye level. Your mouse and keyboard should be within easy reach — this means your elbows should be at your side not extended out in front. If you’re using a laptop, consider investing in a laptop riser, and a separate mouse and keyboard. 

#2

Take regular breaks

Get up and leave your desk every 30–40 minutes to stretch your legs (and your back). 

#3

Exercise at your desk

Remember those exercises that they tell you to do when seated on a plane journey? Do them while you’re working at your screen too. 

#4

Try a posture trainer

Posture trainers, such as UprightGo!, are effective additions to the fitness technology world. They monitor your spinal angle and when you start slouching, they vibrate to tell you to straighten up.

#5

Stay hydrated

Drinking 6–8 cups of hydrating fluids every day, as recommended by the NHS, is important for a healthy body — and that includes your back. Remember, alcohol and coffee are not hydrating as they are diuretics, which means they make you urinate more. 

#6

Exercise regularly

A healthy back needs strong muscles and that’s where regular exercise can help. Make sure you include a good balance of both cardiovascular and strength-building exercises. 

If you’re struggling with back pain, our highly experienced physiotherapists help and advise you on how to get your back in good shape again with targeted physiotherapy in Twickenham. Simply contact us on 020 8898 1231 or at info@bodylogicphysio.co.uk.