Everyday back-friendly tips
Moving more throughout the day and avoiding sitting for hours on end is not easy, especially in typical office jobs. Generally, in order to curb the harmful effects of sitting, about one third of your work day should be spent standing or walking. There are already various solutions for this.
One is office desks that can be converted into standing desks. After all, who says that working at the computer can’t work when you’re standing as well? On the other hand, there are many providers who combine desks with treadmills or bicycles: so-called ‘walking desks’ or ‘Deskcise’.
These are generally a good idea, but they have limitations: reading on a computer screen or making phone calls while walking or pedalling a bike should be less of a problem. However, fine-motor operation and writing on a keyboard poses a greater challenge when working with the legs at the same time, and may be either impossible to master, or only possible with a lot of practice.
There are different ways of sitting
Even if you don’t use any of this new combined fitness furniture, there is always the option of improving the quality of your sitting. If your sitting position is too static or even crooked over long periods, it puts additional strain on your back. Furthermore, your organs are squeezed, your blood circulation falters and breathing becomes difficult. The best starting position for sitting is always an upright posture. This distributes your weight evenly across the spine and opens up the chest. In addition, the following aspects can help to make sitting more comfortable for your back:
Back-friendly sitting – follow these five tips:
Sitting tip 1: it all comes down to the right support
Sit on your chair in such a way that the backrest supports your entire back. This works best if the seat of your chair is tilted slightly forward. A thin wedge cushion can also be placed there for support.
Sitting tip 2: set the right height
To promote blood circulation in the legs, the height of the chair should be set so that the angle between your upper and lower legs is slightly more than 90 degrees. In addition, make sure that the soles of your feet always touch the ground fully and that your thighs rest easily on the seat. Your hands should rest on the keyboard in such a way that they form a straight line with your forearm and do not bend at the wrist.
Sitting tip 3: relax your shoulders
When we concentrate or are under pressure, we tend to raise our shoulders without realising it. What’s better for your posture is if your shoulders hang loosely and you don’t tense them and tilt them forward or pull them back.
Sitting tip 4: rest your arms
Give your arms a break from time to time and rest them on the armrests. This way, you distribute your body weight better and reduce the load on your neck muscles.
Sitting tip 5: bring movement into your sitting
Any kind of permanent sitting position eventually becomes a one-sided strain. Therefore, make sure you change your position frequently. Sit as varied and dynamically as possible, sometimes leaning forward and sometimes backward. Shift your weight, stretch your legs, circle your feet under the table, raise your arms up and to the back, open your chest, circle your shoulders and stretch. And especially important: get up again and again, ideally every 30 to 60 minutes.
There’s no question about it: modern, ergonomic office chairs make a considerable difference. They’re flexible, adapt to your body and allow you to change your posture in all directions. But the potential of even the best office chairs remains unused if you don’t know what your chair can do! Take a look at the instruction manual or, if you can’t find it any more, search for the manufacturer and model online. There, you’ll find a detailed description of the chair’s features and instructions on how to use it and how to sit in the best way possible.
We cover a lot of distance in our cars. And in doing so, we also promote a lack of exercise, one-sided strain and psychological stress. Furthermore, many car seats are not designed to be particularly back-friendly or are not properly adjusted. Especially on longer journeys, this leads to further tightening of the back muscles and causes discomfort.
For back-friendly driving, take the following three recommendations to heart:
1. High-quality car seats are good for your back
When buying a car, everyone, not only long-distance drivers, should make sure that the seats are high-quality. Firstly, this means that you should be able to adjust the seat to your needs as precisely as possible. To allow for this, both the backrest and the seat surface should be adjustable in height, depth and inclination. Secondly, a good seat is characterised by the fact that the upholstery is not too soft and corresponds to the anatomy of the back, pelvis and thighs. The headrest should provide sufficient support for your head, and the backrest should do the same for your entire spine as well as your shoulder blades, even while you steer.
2. How to adjust the car seat correctly
To provide the best possible relief for your back, even on long journeys, pay attention to the following points when adjusting your car seat:
- Backrest: Adjust the backrest to be as straight as possible. The position of the backrest should allow your back to be in an upright position. Ideally, the length of the backrest should correspond to the length of your back. Many vehicles now also have an adjustable lumbar support that you can adjust to your sitting position in addition to the backrest.
- Seat height: If the seat is too low, this leads to an awkward pelvic position and excessive strain on the intervertebral discs. The rule of thumb is that the seat should be high enough so that your eye level is about halfway up the windscreen.
- Seat: The length of the seat is perfect if it is approximately the length of your thighs and ends a few centimetres before the back of your knees. The distance between the seat and the steering wheel should be large enough so that your legs are still slightly bent even when you press all the way down on the pedals.
- Headrest: Adjust the headrest so that the top edge is level with the top of your head.
- Regular breaks enable movement and relieve back strain
Even a perfectly adjusted, high-quality car seat with the best upholstery can’t compensate for a lack of movement. Therefore, especially on longer journeys, make sure to take frequent breaks where you get out of the car, walk around, stretch in all directions and loosen and stretch your muscles. During a long drive, it’s better to take several short breaks than fewer long ones.
Standing correctly: these aspects are crucial
In addition to the correct sitting position, you also need to learn the best position for your body when standing. With an even, moderate load, your muscles and ligaments keep each other in balance. That’s why we unconsciously change position more often when standing. But standing also tires the muscles more quickly, increasing the risk of excessive strain on one side.
For a relieving standing position, pay attention to the following aspects:
Move your body weight as often as possible and consciously from one leg to the other in order to distribute it evenly.
Don’t keep your legs completely straight, but instead ensure a flexible, slightly bent position.
- Take every opportunity to lean: in this way, you reduce the weight of your upper body and relieve your lumbar spine.
- Place one foot on a low box or footstool. This so-called ‘bar stance’ has a relaxing effect and relieves the spine.
- Not only for long periods of sitting, but also for long periods of standing, make sure you get some variety and walk a few steps at regular intervals.
- Make sure you wear suitable shoes. If you stand a lot, shoes with flat heels are always the better choice. This is because wearing high heels causes a shift in the body’s centre of gravity. Almost the entire weight of the body rests on the toes, the pelvis shifts forward and you develop a hollow back. This puts unnatural, excessive strain on the spine, muscles, tendons and joints.
Bending, lifting and carrying: what to watch out for
In addition to lack a of exercise due to prolonged sitting, and being overweight, lifting heavy loads also poses a danger to the back. Especially in professions such as nursing or manual labour, lifting and carrying a lot of weight is unavoidable and can strain the entire musculoskeletal system. This is especially true if the core muscles are not sufficiently trained to lift and move heavy loads.
A typical situation that can easily lead to incorrect lifting is unloading shopping or heavy suitcases from the boot after a long car journey. But also staying in a stooped position for a longer period of time, such as gardening for the first time in spring after a long winter without much movement, can quickly become unpleasantly noticeable in the back.
The load you can put on your back generally depends on your fitness level in combination with the right technique.
If you pay attention to the following points, you will make bending, lifting and carrying easier for yourself and prevent back damage and pain:
- Use the strength of your legs: when picking something up or working close to the ground, keep your torso as upright as possible and bend your knees or squat down. When standing up, use the muscles in your legs to push yourself upwards, just as you do when squatting.
- Never hold your breath: if you do, the pressure in your chest will increase, and this in turn leads to an increase in blood pressure. This can be particularly dangerous for patients with high blood pressure and can lead to issues such as vascular damage and impeded blood flow to the heart. So always continue breathing calmly and evenly while lifting and carrying.
- When lifting something heavy, position yourself as close to the load as possible and place your feet around the load. Keep your back upright, bend your knees, tense your back and abdominal muscles to stabilise your spine and lift the load slowly and in a controlled manner.
- When carrying something, keep your back upright, carry the load close to your body and be careful not to make any rotational movements while carrying.
- It’s best to distribute the load evenly: it’s better to carry a light bag in each hand than a heavy one in only one hand. Even better, instead of a bag, carry a backpack that distributes the weight evenly across your back. When packing a backpack, you should place the heavy items close to your back.
- Stick to the rule of thumb of making two trips instead of one and carrying too much weight.
- In general, try to avoid heavy lifting and carrying. So check for alternatives in advance, such as pushing heavy loads, carrying them with the help of another person or even on a hand truck.
A relaxed sleeping position for a good night’s sleep
Lying down allows your back to relax: the muscles recover from the work of supporting the body, and there is no pressure on the bones, joints and intervertebral discs. Sufficient rest is extremely important for the complete regeneration of the back.
In addition to back pain, many people also suffer from sleep disorders. Both complaints are often closely linked, because insufficient rest or poor-quality sleep can cause tension. The resulting pain means the affected person may be even less able to sleep at night, creating a vicious circle of sleep disorders, poor well-being and declining performance, which, in turn, leads to even more stress and pain.
The right sleeping position is crucial for the nightly recovery of the back. When you lie on your back, your body weight is evenly distributed, relieving your neck and back. Furthermore, sitting a lot during the day shortens fascia and muscles such as the hip flexors. Stretching out your legs is also good for them as a ‘counter-measure’ to sitting with them bent.
However, it is important to note that if you have breathing problems, such as sleep apnoea or heart failure, the side position is more suitable. Sleeping on your side also relieves the spine. If the mattress is not too soft and provides sufficient support for your body, your spine rests in its natural shape and your back can relax.
However, it’s not only when we fall asleep that we can influence our position. During sleep, we involuntarily change position about 20 to 40 times. If your body is not prevented from changing position naturally through the night, which can happen if it sinks into a mattress that’s too soft, it will take care of compensating for unsuitable sleeping positions by changing them itself.
Six common myths about the back
Myth 1: you need to go easy on your back
Anyone who has experienced a slipped disc has most likely been told to go easy on their back and stay in bed. The opposite is true: the back needs movement. Going easy on it will make your complaints worse in the long run. Resting in bed for several days, for example, causes the back to stiffen further and the pain to worsen. Instead, you should focus on strengthening your back with moderate exercise. The sooner you resume physical activity after a slipped disc, the lower the risk of another one.
Myth 2: wrong movements
Basically, there is no such thing as ‘wrong’ movements. If movement causes pain, it is often due to the consequences of weak back or core muscles as well as the shortening of muscles or fascia. So the rule is, make your movement as varied as possible, build up muscles and stretch.
Myth 3: physical labour inevitably leads to back pain
Many scientific studies now show that lack of exercise and psychological stress at work are primary causes of back pain. Physical strain, on the other hand, causes back problems much less often than was long thought. This is mainly because people who do a lot of physical work have much better levels of exercise than desk workers. Job satisfaction and fun at work also reduce the risk of back pain. In contrast, constant stress almost guarantees tension, which can lead to back pain.
Myth 4: the back is naturally prone to pain
There’s no question about it: walking on two legs is a challenge for the musculoskeletal system, which is why the back is generally considered to be particularly susceptible to pain. The truth is, the back performs countless functions. Its structures form a complex system that works together perfectly under the right conditions. But the requirements for a healthy back are often not met. This is because our modern way of life is characterised by an unbalanced diet, a lack of exercise, the wrong kind of stress and psychological pressure: factors that make the sophisticated system of the back weak and susceptible to pain.
Myth 5: the older you get, the more likely you are to experience back pain
Back pain is less likely to occur as a result of age-related wear and tear than is generally assumed. It tends to be the middle phase of life that carries a particularly high risk of developing back problems: namely, between the ages of 30 and 50, when the combined stress of work, raising children and caring for one’s parents is often particularly high.
Myth 6: adjustments always help with blockages
Many back pain sufferers hope to get rid of painful blockages by means of so-called ‘adjustments’. But a strong jerk can have devastating consequences and lead to serious injuries to the spine. The more appropriate and also more sustainable method is to release blockages step by step with warmth, gradual mobilisation and stretching and strengthening exercises. The very best remedy for pain is to avoid blockages in the first place: through plenty of movement, strong muscles and relaxation.