Technological advancements have benefited millions of workers through a diminished need for physical labor, leading to fewer injuries on dangerous job sites. However, many office workers increasingly develop severe physical issues over time due to limited movement, poor posture, and muscle degeneration.
Back pain is among the most prevalent medical problems in the United States today, contributing to more work-loss days than any other chronic condition. Moreover, back pain is also a significant factor in America’s opioid epidemic, with doctors prescribing opioids to almost 14% of insured patients with back pain, despite an overall lack of evidence to support the drugs’ efficacy.1
Developing and maintaining a healthy posture can reduce back pain by ensuring our joints are in proper alignment, reducing ligament stress, and preventing muscle fatigue, strain, and chronic pain.
Back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide and a significant contributor to medical spending in the U.S.2 It affects nearly 65 million Americans, contributing to the following facts and statistics:3
Many factors may contribute to back pain, including several common conditions, such as:4
You can strain your muscles and ligaments through repeated heavy lifting or sudden unexpected movements, leading to back spasms. Individuals in poor physical condition are at higher risk for strain among back muscles and ligaments.
The soft material within the disks that cushion your vertebrae can dislocate, bulge, or rupture, causing pressure on your nerves and resulting in chronic pain.
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become brittle and weak, leading to stress fractures in the spine and resulting in acute or chronic pain.
Arthritis causes tenderness, swelling, and stiffness in the joints, including those in the lower back. Spinal arthritis can cause stenosis, a narrowing in the space around the spinal cord.
Other significant risk factors for back pain include:
Nonpharmacologic interventions are the first-line treatment options for lower back pain. These treatments involve:
In a 2018 study, researchers concluded that chiropractic patients with acute low back pain had 64% lower odds of receiving an opioid prescription, and just 1.5% of chiropractic patients required surgery.5 These patients also had 20% to 40% lower care costs than those receiving other treatment forms.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of treatment, as they say, and this is particularly true of back pain. Current evidence suggests that exercise and education effectively prevent lower back pain, while other interventions, including shoe insoles and back belts, are less effective.6
The following tips may assist with back pain prevention and reduce your medical costs in the long term:
Your muscles help you maintain a healthy posture, no matter your body position. If you’re standing, sitting, or lying down, your body’s position and movements can lead to alignment or misalignment.
When your body is exhibiting good posture, you have just the right amount of muscle tension to resist gravity and keep your body upright without feeling too rigid. If your posture is misaligned, you might experience muscle and joint pain, which could become permanent if you don’t practice proper alignment techniques.
Several muscle groups in the back and lower body control our posture in varying positions. Proper posture can contribute to:
Several factors affect our posture, including habitual movement patterns that lead to excessive strain on our postural muscles and joints. You don’t have to be a scientist to know that staring downward at a cell phone or laptop screen can cause neck pain over time. Less apparent is how these strained positions lead to decreased flexibility and muscle strength, causing pain elsewhere in the body, such as in the lower back and lower limbs.
Some of the most common factors contributing to misalignment and poor posture include:7
When working to improve your posture, the assistance of a chiropractor or physical alignment specialist is ideal, as these professionals can objectively observe your movements and positioning and assist you in reducing your risk of injury and strain.
However, you can work on improving your posture alone with mindful awareness and an understanding of ergonomic movement strategies. The following tips can help you make the necessary adjustments at home, in the workplace, and while sleeping to reduce your risk of back pain.
Individuals who spend their workdays sitting at desks can experience neck and back pain because of limited movement and improper alignment. To achieve the best sitting posture, you should:
Those who work in jobs requiring frequent standing or walking can also suffer back pain due to improper posture. And while we can't often control the type of flooring in our work environments, we can adjust our alignment to reduce muscular and ligament stress. When standing, you should:
We often don't think of posture when sleeping, but the body position you tend to keep at night can also significantly impact your alignment in the day. When sleeping, you should:
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Acute low back pain (2022). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Retrieved on September 4, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/acute-pain/low-back-pain/index.html.
Hoy D, March L, Brooks P, et al. (2014). The global burden of low back pain: Estimates from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. Retrieved on September 4, 2022, from https://ard.bmj.com/content/73/6/968.
Chronic back pain (2022). Georgetown University, McCourt School of Public Policy, Health Policy Institute. Retrieved on September 4, 2022, from https://hpi.georgetown.edu/backpain/.
Back pain (2022). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved on September 5, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20369906#.
Cherkin, D. (May 18, 2018). Innovating to improve care for low back pain in the military. JAMA Network Open. Retrieved on September 6, 2022, from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2680415.
Steffens, D., et al. (February, 2016). Prevention of low back pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved on September 7, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26752509/.
Getting it straight (2017, August). National Institutes of Health: News in Health. Retrieved on September 13, 2022, from https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2017/08/getting-it-straight#.