Back Pain

Updated 14 November 2016

How to sit for a healthy back

Some work is best done sitting, so the chair is and will remain, a firm part of office life. Here's how to take care of your back while sitting.

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National Back Week takes place 3 - 9 September 2012 and offers the opportunity to raise people's awareness to back related health.  Whilst the topic regarding back health is incredibly vast the focus for this week is specifically aimed to help raise the awareness around sitting, the consequences of poor seating and the benefits of an ergonomic chair in the workplace.  To support this, there are also tips for healthy sitting as a way of aiding people to take care of their backs whilst seated. 

Consequences of poor seating

Research has revealed that backache is one of the major health factors influencing a person’s work performance and is responsible for a large percentage of lost working days. It is commonly known that pain makes a person tired and can significantly interfere with a person's quality of life and general functioning.  Experts estimate that we spend up to 80 000 hours seated the consequence of which can be: tension, headaches, backache, impaired digestion and concentration.  Poor posture places tension in various parts of the body and reduces ones breathing capacity significantly.

 

The benefits of an ergonomic chair

Research by Dauphin shows that a seat tilt of up to 12° is ideal as it allows the position of the pelvis, when sitting, to be similar to its position when standing and this helps to minimise strain on the user's spinal column, thus creating the healthiest posture. Furthermore, this posture allows room for the lungs to expand to full capacity, which allows oxygen to flow freely to the brain and increase energy. Therefore, one way to potentially conquer tiredness is to address bad seating habits and ensure that you have a chair that is ergonomically sound.

Choosing an ergonomic chair

It is imperative to choose an adjustable chair that will provide support in the following areas so as to minimise the risk of injury.

1.  Adjust the height of the seat so that the feet are firmly on the ground with the knees at a 90 degree angle. If the seat does not adjust as such, make use of a footrest to achieve this position.

2.  Make sure the backrest is positioned to provide adequate lumber support and partial thoracic support (typically if it is 50 cm above the seat it should provide adequate support). The provision of a lumbar pad in the backrest is useful in that it provides extra support for this region.

3. The seat should swivel allowing for easy movement and preferably have a 5-point base which provides better stability if the chair has castors.

4.  Adjust the arm rest position so that the arm rests support the forearms when sitting up straight. By supporting the mass of the arms the arm rests help to reduce the strain on the shoulder musculature.

“Most modern office chairs come with adjustable features however people need to ensure that they purchase their ergonomic chairs from reputable suppliers who offer an educational session as part of their after-sales service.  It is imperative that each chair is set up correctly and specifically for the intended user so as for it to be an effective work station tool ,” says Arnoldi-Radford of the Dauphin HumanDesign® Group.

More interesting facts

  • Experts estimate that we spend up to 80 000 hours seated the consequence of which can be: tension, headaches, backache, impaired digestion and concentration.  Poor posture places tension in various parts of the body and reduces ones breathing capacity significantly.
  • Research has revealed that backache is one of the major health factors influencing a person’s work performance and is responsible for a large percentage of lost working days. It is commonly known that pain makes a person tired and can significantly interfere with a person's quality of life and general functioning. 
  • The average person sits for 13 hours a day. However, our spine was not designed for passive sitting.
  • Investigations into people’s seating habits during workstation assessments repeatedly show that many office workers do not sit in the ideal way.
  • Researchers have spent a great deal of time and energy analysing and defining suitable ways of helping people to sit correctly. However, the fact that these ‘sitting norms’ are static makes it impossible for people to adhere to them when concentrating at work.
  • According to a European ergonomist (Malte Lenkeit), who has studied the relationship between people and their ‘seated’ environment for over 20 years, up to 70% of all back and neck problems result from incorrect sitting positions and in Europe, 80% of employees have back pain with one third of them suffering from chronic back pain.

However, one thing is clear: some work is best done sitting, so the chair is and will remain, a firm part of office life. 

(Health24, September 2012)

Issued and prepared for the Dauphin HumanDesign Group by Vivienne Cannan

How comfortable is your office chair? Mail us at community@ health24.com , send us a picture of your chair, or comment below. 

 

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Susan qualified as a Physiotherapist in 1990, and completed her master’s degree in Physiotherapy in 2013 at the University of Pretoria. She has a special interest in human biomechanics, as well as the interaction between domestic and work-related ergonomics.

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