Fixing “computer guy” back problems to have more comfortable & productive work sessions.

This is from one computer addict to another, stop treating your back like s***. The way you sit at your desk can affect many aspects of your health, let’s have a look at why, and how to do the right thing by your body.

As a kid I spent hours every day hunched over my desk on IM. As a teenager I spent hours every day hunched my desk playing World of Warcraft. As a college student I spent hours every day hunched over my desk studying and in the office I spent hours every day hunched over my desk working. The operative word is “hunched”.

For some reason I was surprised when I started to get severe back pain. For almost two decades I was sitting at a desk the wrong way and I was now paying the iron price in the form of severe back aches, having to constantly crack my back and enduring muscle pain. I started researching and found that back pain affects more than just your back.

“When pain becomes chronic, it goes far beyond a physical sensation. It can impact your emotions, too. “The back pain can become a black hole for all of life’s bumps in the road. Everything is blamed on the back pain. If the back pain were better, everything would be better.”
- Jerome Schofferman, MD, head of the Rehabilitation, Interventional, and Medical Spine Care (RIMS) Section of the North American Spine Society.

Over the years I became a big believer in working smarter not harder, so it was time for me to apply this to my body as well as my work.

Chances are if you’re reading this, you probably already know the feelings I’m talking about. You might have even tried a few things to fix it or have done some Googling but the discomfort is still there, and you’re still cracking your back every fifteen minutes.

These are the 5 things I did that were most effective at reducing discomfort and pain both short and long term.

1. I did Dr Eric Goodman’s lower back workout almost every day. (12 minutes)

The purpose of this is to strengthen your posterior chain. This YouTube video is a god-send. I did this mini back workout right next to my computer desk, and if you follow the instructions exactly the stretches feel amazing. At first I found it impossible to get through the entire 12 minutes, but every day that I did it I could do a little more, and after a week I could do the entire workout. A word of advice, this specific workout should not be attempted by complete beginners to stretching, if you’ve never stretched before Eric has YouTube videos for absolute beginners that also strengthen the posterior chain.

Lower back workout, with Dr. Eric Goodman and Foundation Training

2. I bought a foam roller and used it every day (5 minutes)

Foam rollers break up knotted muscle, increase blood flow and circulation by providing a myofascial release type of massage. This was the cheapest (Can be as little as $5), and one of the most important investment I have ever made for my health. After hearing all of the buzz and positive things circling around about foam rollers and what they can do for your body, I went and bought a cheap one from a local store.

An example of a foam roller.

After researching techniques for easing lower back pain with this piece of equipment I soon realized that I had been missing out on a nirvana-like experience my entire life. If you have lower back pain, upper back pain or bad posture you really do have to get one of these. They’re so cheap, you’d be crazy not to. Here is a bunch of techniques you can use with the foam roller to provide relief for different types of back pain.

3. I adjusted my chair and workspace to be as ergonomic as possible

It’s important for your workspace to be set up in a way that puts the least pressure on your back, and is the least damaging to your posture. The diagram below outlines the important areas of your workspace. Since adjusting every chair is a little different and some chairs have limited options, here is an outline of the main functions of the chair and how they affect your back.

Forward tilt — Adjusting this widens the angle of your thighs and trunk, this creates a lordotic curve in the spine and reduces the pressure on your spinal discs.
Backrest angle — Adjusting this allows the chair to recline, which transfers upper body weight into the back of the chair, reducing the pressure on your lower back region. Adjusting the backrest will also widen the angle between your torso & thighs, causing your lower back to curve inwards. This results in less pressure on your spinal discs.

You should adjust the settings on your chair so your feet are firmly flat on the floor in front of you, and your elbows rest at ninety degrees to your keyboard. If your feet are flat, but your elbows do are not ninety degrees to your keyboard, you should consider getting a footrest to solve this.

An overview of the most important ergonomic workspace practices

4. I went to a physiotherapist

A simple list of “life hacks” can help, but often is not enough for something as serious as spinal problems. Back pain can develop into a serious, and complex issue for a lot of people. Much of the time the condition can require the attention of a professional. If you have the option to do this I urge you to book in a quick session with a physiotherapist to talk about the issues you are having. I did, and they pointed me to all of the things I wrote about in points above. It was an invaluable experience that actually did change my life for the better.

5. Just stand up

It’s ideal to take a break from sitting down to release the pressure on your lower back and spinal discs by standing up, going for a short walk or stretching every hour. If you have trouble remembering to do this on the hour, there is a wealth of smart phone apps and fitness watches available for this exact purpose, or if you like to do things old-school, an egg timer will do just fine.

To solve this problem, you may want to look into a standing desk. Standing desks are (generally) adjustable desk surfaces that can be extended to match your elbow height while standing, allowing you to easily switch between sitting and standing while working. While there are some obvious benefits to this, there is also a lot of hype surrounding standing desks, they are not the magic cure for back problems, but can potentially alleviate a lot of lower back pressure, while also providing a range of other benefits.

Some of the (dramatic) dangers of sitting for extended periods of time.

These are the general rules of thumb when setting up a standing desk.

Written by Jeremy from Xylo Agency. Do you have any personal techniques you use at your desk to lessen the pressure on your back while working? Let us know in the comments.

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