Thread: Back Problems
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Old 08-19-2006, 11:23 AM   #13
Kevin Wilbanks
Location: Seattle/Southern Wisconsin
Join Date: Jul 2002
Posts: 788
Re: Back Problems

Most times when there is a sudden onset of back pain from lifting or bending, it has little to do with that particular incident. I knew an old guy whose back went out putting on his underwear one morning! Do you sit in chairs a lot? In the US, there is an epidemic of back pain in middle aged and older folks, and the major underlying cause is sitting in chairs, believe it or not.

Most people sit in chairs with their lumbar spine flexed under load, because they slouch. This isn't an extremely harsh stress for the low back, but the problem is the duration. If you have a desk job, it can mean sitting like this for 8 hours plus per day. For a similar illustration, bend one of your fingers back until it is uncomfortably stretched. Let go immediately and there's no problem. Now hold it for a while. It's starting to seem like a bigger deal. Now imagine holding it like that for 8 hours per day... This is what is going on with millions of americans' lower backs. The ligaments and muscles are being chronically stressed by being held in a flexed position during lazy sitting.

Add to this that most also do not do regular exercises to strengthen these structures and practice proper posture and movement patterns for when they do need to lift things. The lower back is basically like a time bomb waiting for a lifted sack of dirt or box of books to set it off.

One upshot of this is that if you have back pain, forward bending lower back stretches are rarely a good idea, as this is just more of what hurt you. Some physical therapy centers around forcibly extending the spine in an attempt to undo some of the damage, but this shouldn't be done without good reason and supervision.

The main reason I mention all this is what Carol said about finding the cause. If you slouch in chairs a lot, put it at the top of the list of suspects. It can be addressed by workplace ergonomics. You might think the solution is just to sit up straight with perfect posture all the time, but that can cause problems too. The best is to vary positions. I came up with a model where one has a standing height desk and a sitting height desk, so one can alternate standing and sitting. Getting one of those slanted kneeling seiza-like chairs in addition to the normal chair can also add options, as can consciously varying the way you sit in your normal chair - sometimes straight up and 'proper', sometimes slouching.

Best of all is to not have a life which requires extensive chair-sitting. The human body does best with frequent movement and variation in position, sitting in office chairs most of the time is simply inherently bad for it... like smoking.

Last edited by Kevin Wilbanks : 08-19-2006 at 11:34 AM.
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