top of page
  • Dr. Norbert Martin, DPT

How to Work Without Hurting Your Back: 12 Easy Steps

Updated: Apr 19, 2023




Back pain is one of the most common health problems that affects millions of people around the world. It can range from a mild ache to a severe and disabling condition that interferes with your daily activities and quality of life. Back pain can be caused by various factors, such as injury, muscle strain, poor posture, stress, pregnancy, obesity, arthritis, osteoporosis, and more. If left untreated, back pain can lead to chronic problems and complications, such as nerve damage, spinal stenosis, herniated discs, sciatica, and more. Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent back pain or reduce its severity and frequency. In this blog post, we will share with you 12 simple tips that you can follow to avoid back pain at work and keep your spine healthy and happy.





1. Adjust your chair

One of the most important factors that can affect your back health is how you sit at your desk. If your chair is not adjusted properly, you may end up slouching, hunching, or leaning forward, which can put pressure on your spine and cause back pain. To prevent this, you should adjust your chair according to the following guidelines:


  • The height of your chair should allow your feet to rest flat on the floor and your knees to be slightly lower than your hips.

  • The depth of your seat should allow you to sit with your back against the backrest and leave a small gap between the edge of the seat and the back of your knees.

  • The angle of your backrest should support the natural curve of your spine and allow you to recline slightly when you need to relax.

  • The lumbar support of your chair should fit snugly into the lower part of your back and prevent you from slumping or arching your back.

  • The armrests of your chair should support your elbows and forearms and keep your shoulders relaxed and level.



If your chair does not have these features or cannot be adjusted to suit your needs, you may want to invest in a new ergonomic chair or use some accessories, such as a lumbar cushion, a footrest, or a seat wedge.



2. Use a headset/earbuds or speakerphone

If you need to use a phone at work, you should avoid holding it between your ear and shoulder, as this can strain your neck and upper back muscles and cause pain and stiffness. According to Medical News Today, holding a phone in this position can cause “tension or injury in the sternocleidomastoid muscle”. Some symptoms of this condition include “pain behind the ear and down the neck and shoulder”.


To prevent this, you should use a headset or speakerphone whenever possible, as this will allow you to keep your head and neck in a neutral position and free your hands for other tasks. If you don’t have access to a headset or speakerphone, you should switch the phone from one ear to the other frequently and avoid long phone calls.



3. Take breaks

Sitting for long periods of time can be harmful for your back health, as it can reduce the blood flow to your muscles and discs, increase the stress on your spine and joints, and weaken your core muscles that support your posture. According to Yale medicine, and a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, sitting for more than 30 minutes at a time can increase the risk of developing chronic low back pain.


To prevent this, you should take regular breaks throughout the day and change your position or activity every 20 to 30 minutes. During these breaks, you should stand up, walk around, stretch your muscles, relax your mind, and improve your blood circulation. You can also use these breaks to drink some water, eat a healthy snack, or chat with a colleague.


Taking breaks can not only help you prevent back pain, but also boost your productivity, creativity, and mood.



4. Stretch your muscles

Another way to prevent back pain at work is to stretch your muscles regularly, especially those that are involved in sitting and working at a desk, such as your neck, shoulders, back, hips, and legs. Stretching can help you relieve muscle tension and stiffness, improve your flexibility and range of motion, and prevent injuries and strains.


You can stretch your muscles during your breaks or while sitting at your desk. You don’t need any special equipment or clothing to do so, just some space and comfort. You can follow some simple stretching exercises that target different parts of your body, such as:


  • Neck: Tilt your head to one side and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Then, rotate your head slowly in a circular motion. Do this 5 times in each direction.

  • Shoulders: Roll your shoulders forward and backward 10 times each. Then, bring your right arm across your chest and hold it with your left hand. Pull gently until you feel a stretch in your shoulder. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat on the other side.

  • Back: Sit up straight and place your hands on your lower back. Arch your back slightly and look up at the ceiling. Hold for 10 seconds and relax. Then, hug your knees to your chest and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 3 times.

  • Hips: Sit on the edge of your chair and cross your right leg over your left knee. Lean forward slightly until you feel a stretch in your right hip. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat on the other side.

  • Legs: Stand up and place your right foot on a low surface, such as a chair or a stool. Keep your leg straight and lean forward until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat on the other side. Then, stand behind your chair and hold it for support. Bend your right knee and bring your heel toward your buttock. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat on the other side.


You should stretch gently and slowly and avoid bouncing or jerking movements. You should also breathe normally and stop if you feel any pain or discomfort.



5. Maintain good posture

One of the most common causes of back pain at work is poor posture, which can result from sitting or standing incorrectly, slouching over a keyboard or a mouse, or holding a phone between your ear and shoulder. Poor posture can put excessive pressure on your spine and discs, cause muscle imbalance and fatigue, and lead to chronic pain and problems.

To prevent this, you should maintain good posture while sitting or standing at work. Good posture means keeping your spine in a natural alignment and distributing your body weight evenly. Some tips to maintain good posture are:


  • While sitting, keep your feet flat on the floor and your knees slightly lower than your hips.

  • While standing, keep your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent.

  • While working at a desk, keep your monitor at eye level and about an arm’s length away from you.

  • While typing or using a mouse, keep your wrists straight and your elbows close to your body.

  • While using a phone, use a headset or speakerphone and avoid holding it between your ear and shoulder.

  • While carrying or lifting objects, use both hands and bend at the knees rather than the waist.


You should also check and correct your posture regularly and avoid staying in one position for too long. You can use some tools or devices to help you maintain good posture, such as an ergonomic chair, a lumbar cushion, a standing desk, or a posture corrector.



6. Lift objects properly

Another common cause of back pain at work is lifting objects improperly, which can result in injury, strain, or sprain of the back muscles or ligaments. Lifting objects improperly can also damage the spine or discs, cause herniation or rupture of the discs, or compress the nerves in the spine.

To prevent this, you should lift objects properly by following these steps:


  • Before lifting an object, assess its weight and size and decide if you need help or equipment to lift it safely.

  • If possible, use a cart, dolly, or hoist to move heavy or bulky objects rather than carrying them by hand.

  • If you must lift an object by hand, stand close to it and position yourself so that you don’t have to twist or bend awkwardly to reach it.

  • Bend at the knees and hips rather than the waist and keep your back straight and aligned with your head and neck.

  • Use both hands to grasp the object firmly and lift it close to your body.

  • Lift the object slowly and smoothly by straightening your legs and keeping your back straight.

  • Avoid twisting or turning your body while lifting or carrying the object.

  • If you need to change direction, move your feet rather than your waist.

  • Lower the object carefully by bending your knees and hips and keeping your back straight.


You should also avoid lifting objects that are too heavy or awkward for you and ask for help or use equipment when needed. You should also warm up your muscles before lifting and stretch them after lifting.



7. Avoid twisting your spine

Another common cause of back pain at work is twisting your spine, which can occur when you reach for something behind you, turn to look at someone or something, or change direction while carrying or lifting an object. Twisting your spine can put stress on your muscles and ligaments, cause inflammation and irritation of the nerves in the spine or damage the discs or joints in the spine.

To prevent this, you should avoid twisting your spine by following these tips:


  • Arrange your workspace so that everything you need is within easy reach, and you don’t have to twist or turn to access it.

  • Use a swivel chair or a rotating monitor stand to move easily without twisting your spine.

  • If you need to reach for something behind you, turn your whole body rather than just your waist or neck.

  • If you need to change direction while carrying or lifting an object, move your feet rather than your waist.


You should also be aware of your posture and alignment and avoid slouching or leaning to one side.



8. Use ergonomic equipment

Another way to prevent back pain at work is to use ergonomic equipment that is designed to fit your body and reduce strain and stress on your spine and muscles. Ergonomic equipment can help you maintain good posture, support your back and neck, and improve your comfort and efficiency.

Some examples of ergonomic equipment are:


  • An ergonomic chair that has adjustable features such as height, seat depth, backrest angle, lumbar support, and armrests.

  • An ergonomic keyboard and mouse that have a natural shape and size and allow you to keep your wrists straight and your elbows close to your body.

  • An ergonomic monitor that has an adjustable height and angle and allows you to keep it at eye level and about an arm’s length away from you.

  • An ergonomic desk that is of a suitable height and width and allows you to have enough space for your legs, feet, and equipment.

  • An ergonomic footrest that supports your feet and legs and allows you to keep your knees slightly lower than your hips.


If you don’t have access to ergonomic equipment at work, you can use some accessories or DIY solutions to make your workspace more ergonomic, such as:


  • A lumbar cushion or a rolled-up towel that you can place behind your lower back to support your spine.

  • A book or a box that you can place under your monitor to raise it to eye level.

  • A pillow or a blanket that you can place on your seat to increase its depth or height.

  • A rubber band or a hair tie that you can wrap around your mouse to make it more comfortable to grip.




9. Manage your stress

Another factor that can contribute to back pain at work is stress, which can affect both your physical and mental health. Stress can cause muscle tension and spasms in the back, trigger inflammation and pain in the nerves in the spine or worsen existing back problems. Stress can also affect your mood, motivation, concentration, and productivity.

To prevent this, you should manage your stress by following these tips:


  • Identify the sources of stress in your work environment and try to eliminate or reduce them if possible.

  • Set realistic and achievable goals for yourself and prioritize them accordingly.

  • Delegate tasks or ask for help when needed and avoid taking on more than you can handle.

  • Communicate effectively with your colleagues, managers, clients, and customers and express your needs, expectations, feedback, and concerns clearly and respectfully.

  • Take breaks throughout the day and do something relaxing or enjoyable such as listening to music, reading a book, meditating, or chatting with a friend.

  • Practice healthy habits such as eating well, sleeping enough, exercising regularly, and avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.

  • Seek professional help or counseling if you feel overwhelmed or depressed by your stress.


Managing your stress can not only help you prevent back pain, but also improve your overall well-being and happiness.



10. Stay hydrated

Another way to prevent back pain at work is to stay hydrated by drinking enough water and fluids throughout the day. Water is essential for your body’s functions and processes, including those that affect your back health. Water can help you:


  • Lubricate and nourish the discs and joints in your spine and prevent them from drying out and degenerating.

  • Flush out toxins and waste products from your muscles and tissues and prevent inflammation and pain.

  • Regulate your body temperature and blood pressure and prevent dehydration and heat stress.

  • Improve your digestion and metabolism and prevent constipation and bloating that can cause back pain.

  • Enhance your brain function and mood and prevent headaches and fatigue that can affect your posture and concentration.


To stay hydrated, you should drink at least eight glasses of water per day or more if you sweat a lot or work in a hot or dry environment. You should also avoid or at least minimize consumption of drinks that can dehydrate you such as coffee, tea, soda, alcohol, and energy drinks.



11. Exercise regularly

Another factor that can help you prevent back pain at work is exercise, which can benefit both your physical and mental health. Exercise can help you:


  • Strengthen your core muscles that support your spine and posture and prevent muscle weakness and imbalance that can cause back pain.

  • Improve your flexibility and range of motion in your spine and joints and prevent stiffness and injury that can cause back pain.

  • Increase your blood flow and oxygen delivery to your muscles and discs and promote healing and recovery from back pain.

  • Release endorphins and serotonin in your brain and reduce stress and pain perception.


To exercise regularly, you should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week such as walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming. You should also do some strength training exercises for your major muscle groups such as your back, abdomen, chest, arms, and legs at least twice a week. You should also do some stretching exercises for your back and other muscles before and after each workout session.


You should choose exercises that are suitable for your fitness level and goals and avoid exercises that can aggravate your back pain such as lifting heavy weights, twisting your spine, or bending forward. You should also warm up properly before each exercise session and cool down afterward.



12. Sleep well

The last tip to prevent back pain at work is to sleep well, which is vital for your body’s repair and recovery from daily stress and strain. Sleep can help you:


  • Relax and heal your muscles and tissues and prevent inflammation and pain in the back.

  • Replenish the fluid and nutrients in your discs and prevent them from shrinking and degenerating.

  • Restore your energy and brain function and improve your mood, motivation, concentration, and productivity.


To sleep well, you should aim for seven to eight hours of quality sleep per night or more if you have chronic or severe back pain. You should also follow these tips to improve your sleep hygiene:


  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule and go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.

  • Create a comfortable and quiet sleeping environment and use curtains, blinds, earplugs, or a fan to block out any light or noise that can disturb your sleep.

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, or heavy meals before bedtime as they can interfere with your sleep quality or cause indigestion or reflux that can cause back pain.

  • Avoid using electronic devices such as TV, computer, phone, or tablet before bedtime as they can emit blue light that can suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates your sleep cycle.

  • Choose a comfortable mattress, pillow, and bedding that suit your preferences and support your spine alignment.

  • Adopt a good sleeping position that does not strain or twist your spine and use pillows or cushions to support your head, neck, back, hips, or legs.


Sleeping well can not only help you prevent back pain, but also enhance your overall health and happiness.

Back pain is a common and serious problem that can affect your work performance and well-being. However, by following these 12 simple tips, you can prevent back pain or reduce its impact on your life. Remember to adjust your chair, use a headset or speakerphone, take breaks, stretch your muscles, maintain good posture, lift objects properly, avoid twisting your spine, use ergonomic equipment, manage your stress, stay hydrated, exercise regularly, and sleep well. These tips will help you keep your back healthy and strong while you work. If you have persistent or severe back pain that does not improve with these tips, you should consult your doctor or a physical therapist for diagnosis and treatment.



Jubilant Therapy Services logo

Comments


Subscribe to Our Blog

Thanks for subscribing!

bottom of page