How to Avoid Neck and Back Pain at the Office

Neck and back pain is a fact of life for many people. But does it have to be? We recently spoke with Austin-based Chiropractor, Dr. Jeff Ulery of Whole Body Health, to find out what kind of steps you can take to prevent or reduce neck & back pain, including the use of a Formaspace Sit-to-Stand desk at work.

Q: What Kind of Patients Come to See You?

Dr. Jeff Ulery — Whole Body Health

We asked Dr. Ulery to give us an idea of the type of patients he sees in his clinic.

Broadly speaking, they fall into two groups.

The first group is patients with neck or back pain stemming from joint problems — the textbook case for chiropractors. Dr. Ulery addresses these type of problems by balancing out muscles, which in turn helps with the joint problems. Patients then learn how to perform follow-up exercises and skills to manage these problems and help prevent them from happening again.

The clinic’s second group of patients suffer from symptoms they cannot seem to get relief from using other treatments. Here, the underlying issues can range from digestive issues to traumatic brain injuries to hormone issues, to depression and anxiety issues.

Q: What’s the Most Common Symptom Your Patients Have?

Among Dr. Ulery’s patients, the one symptom they all seem to share in common is stress. In his estimation, somewhere between 85–95 % of people are experiencing stress. Perhaps it’s a function of our modern world, where we stay constantly plugged in — we can’t seem to turn off all these devices — and this is working to keep our stress levels unnaturally high.

From a medical perspective, Dr. Ulery believes the body’s ability to manage stress is often directly related to the health of the adrenal glands. When the body can’t manage stress properly, symptoms will show up in the digestive system, the immune system, and in the hormones.

Importantly, if patients suffer from stress, the can have their muscles and joints adjusted — Dr. Ulery is a Chiropractor after all, but when patients are suffering from exceptionally high levels of stress, the adjustment won’t provide a long-term benefit.

So managing stress is key.

To improve adrenal gland health, Dr. Ulery typically provides nutrition guidance and supplements, as well as suggesting lifestyle changes. These include using visualization techniques to reduce stress and learning how to breathe utilizing full, deep breaths — which will help patients process their stress more effectively.

Q: What’s the Major Cause of Back Pain?

Bad posture is a huge contributor to back pain, according to Dr. Ulery. He once blamed his own back issues on playing football in his youth and being involved in a couple of rear-end car accidents — but he’s come to believe the root cause is how we sit, and how we stand.

What’s especially troubling in his view is the posture of today’s generation of young people.

He has observed that students in ages ranging from elementary school right through high school and into college sit with an extremely poor, slumped posture. Sadly, he believes these young people may soon start to develop problems which you’d only expect to see with very elderly patients or those suffering from osteoporosis.

In fact, there is a new emerging diagnosis variously called either iPhone neck or iPad neck. It stems from the type of poor posture — nicknamed the ‘vulture’s pose’ — that comes from when people lean their heads down to view their phone or when people lean their necks forward and down to view their computer screen.

This position, in turn, creates a gravitational force that pulls us physically forward, while rolling our hips backward — resulting in huge dysfunction with how our lower backs and pelvises are meant to function.

Q: Can Sit-to-Stand Desks Help Prevent Back Pain?

According to Dr. Ulery, his patients are now regularly asking about using Sit-to-Stand desks to help prevent back pain.

He recommends Sit-to-Stand to his patients, but with the following caveat: You can still have poor posture when working in a standing position.

In other words, to get the important health benefits from a Sit-to-Stand desk, you still have to be aware of maintaining good posture as you stand in order to receive the benefits.

But if you do, the health effects for your whole body can be very beneficial — Sit-to-Stand desks are a really good option for many people he says.

Of course, Dr. Ulery emphasizes that just as the body is not meant to sit as long as we tend to do these days, it’s also not meant for us to stand all day long either. Balance is the key — being able to change positions throughout the day is a really good option — as long as we learn good posture to take advantage of Sit-and-Stand desks.

That’s why Dr. Ulery recommends getting a proper personal ergonomic assessment when first starting to use a Sit-to-Stand desk in order to get the maximum health benefit.

Q: How Much Should We Stand During the Day Compared to Sitting?

According to Dr. Ulery, sitting to do work in short breaks is good. But standing most of the time is better. In other words, standing 90 plus percent of the time is probably a good idea for most people.

However, he emphasizes, the exact ratio is quite individualized.

Patients may also need to make changes slowly.

For example, it’s important to recognize that if you have been working in one position for a long time –working at a ‘desk job’ for the last 10 years as an example — your muscles will need time to adapt to standing for longer periods.

Q: What Are the Negative Consequences from Sitting too Much?

According to Dr. Ulery, the problem with sitting too much boils down to basic bio-mechanics and physics. It’s simple he says: our body is engineered to adapt to the posture that you spend the most time in! And bio-mechanically, the way our body is designed, it’s meant to be upright and standing.

What Dr. Ulery tells patients is to the point: “I say to people, ‘our butt is becoming our third leg,’ and we’re not using it well; we’re rolling back on our tail bone, and it creates a lot of problems.”

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