Backache

Updated 30 June 2014

No more slouching and slumping

You slouch behind your desk, slump in your car and sack out in front of the TV . Then you expect three frantic gym sessions per week to give you good posture. Get real.

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Posture is simply a habit you develop. The sad truth is that a good posture is actually easier on your body than a bad one, but over the years you develop a slump. It happens with subtle, glacial velocity.

By the time your mom says you need to walk around with a book on your head you’re several inches shorter than you used to be. Suddenly it’s difficult to stand or sit straight without feeling uncomfortable. Never fear. We’re here to help.

You’re probably aware that good posture is good for your body. Your organs will function better when you have good posture and good muscle tone. There’s one easy way to improve your posture and that’s to tuck in your butt. It’s impossible to slouch when your cheeks are clenched. If your head starts spinning you’re clenching too much.

You should also examine the chairs you sit on at work. You may find that they make it difficult to maintain a good posture.

Stacking chairs worst

The stacking chair found in many lecture halls, schools and staff canteens is popular and practical because it can be stacked. The problem is that in order to stack, the seat must have a backward slope and a short backrest. Because of the backward slope, you’re pushed against a backrest that may be too short to offer any support.

If the chairs are made of thin, pliable plastic, they probably offer no support to your bottom or back. If you’re taking notes or writing, the backward slope of the seat pan will force you to hunch forward. Some of these chairs are better than others, but generally they’re bad for you. Many types of folding chairs have the same problem. If you don’t have a choice of chair a wedge-shaped cushion to minimise the chair’s harmful effects.

Lumbar support was thought to be absolutely necessary and almost a panacea for poor chair design. It’s now recognised that too much lumbar support does more harm than good. People come in such a wide variety of shapes and sizes that a seat with very definite curves built into it will not suit everyone. Be wary of a seat that forces the spine into an exaggerated lordosis or forward curve.

Scrutinise the slope

Remember that an office chair has very different requirements from the chair you relax in at home. Working, like eating is usually a forward activity. The pan of the chair should slope slightly forward, or it’ll force you to hunch forward. The best work chairs allow the seat to be angled slightly forward so that the back of the seat pan is 2-3 inches higher than the front.

More office chairs are now being designed with a seat angle facility. Ideally this is independent of the seat height and backrest adjustments. There are also wedge shaped cushions available that can be used to improve horizontal or backward sloping dining or work chairs, or car seats.

Examine the height of the seat relative to the floor and the work surface. The feet should be on the floor and the knees not higher than the hips. The backrest needs to be as high as the lower shoulder blades and not angled back too much.

Still not sure how to adjust your chair? This video shows you how to properly adjust your chair when sitting at a desk.

(William Smook, Health24, updated April 2011)

Read more:

10 tips to avoid backache at work

 Office ergonomics

 

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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. Read more here.

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