Are you sitting comfortably?

backpain

Back pain accounted for 7.6 million lost working days from 2010 – 2011 in the UK. That represents a significant cost to the NHS – and to businesses. It would therefore make sense for savvy employers to drive down their employee sickness bills by investing in equipment that promotes back health. What would you consider to be a reasonable cost for such equipment? How about £8,000? For a single chair? That’s how much the Limbic chair will set back big-spending bosses and individuals, with the makers Inno-Motion claiming that the hefty price tag is justified because of its impressive ergonomic benefits.

The Limbic chair is so called because its range of movement purportedly has a positive effect on the limbic system, the part of the brain controlling our emotional responses, creativity and motivation. In addition to a heightened sense of wellbeing, there are physiological benefits: the chair is structured in such a way that there is minimal pressure on vertebrae and the minute movements made while seated promote flexibility and spine strength. You can read more about it here.

I would love to try it, but even if it lives up to its promise I’d be reluctant to shell out such a substantial amount of money for a chair. I also doubt that the occupational health budgets of the majority of companies could stretch to accommodate this kind of expenditure. So are there any other effective ways to protect your back while desk-bound?

A recent study found that our parents’ and schoolteachers’ exhortations to “sit up straight” were erroneous, and that the ideal posture while seated is at a 135-degree angle. I don’t doubt the veracity of the findings, but in terms of practicality, working while positioned at a semi-prone angle is not a viable option.

All is not lost, however. The following techniques can help to make sure that  your back doesn’t pay a heavy price for your hours of hard labour in the office:

Sit correctly
Correct posture is key in protecting your back. Adjust your chair (office chairs have to be adjustable by law) so that your lower back is supported. You can use a lumbar roll such as this one by McKenzie (www.healthandcare.co.uk) to preserve the natural back arch which tends to disappear when we are seated. Ensure that your knees are level with your hips, using a footrest if necessary.

Move around
Frequent breaks from your seated position are crucial. Getting up and walking around or even standing at your desk (of which more later) can  be extremely effective if done often enough – movement relieves pressure on the spine and keeps spinal fluid flowing around the vertebrae.

Stretch
Make flexibility exercises part of your fitness programme. Disciplines such as yoga and Pilates, with their emphasis on core strength, are particularly good choices.  If you can withstand bemused glances from your colleagues, some moves can even be carried out at your desk.

Call in the experts
Book an appointment for your occupational health representatives to visit you at your desk to carry out a desk assessment. They will ensure that your workspace – chair positioning and desk layout – is optimal.

Invest in a standing or treadmill desk
Standing desks are gaining popularity as more people become aware of the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. Many standing desks are adjustable so that you can switch periodically from sitting to standing as you work. These desks aren’t cheap, but you would still get several thousand pounds’ change from the cost of a Limbic.  They can be manually or electrically operated. Alternatively you can buy a desktop add-on which allows your workspace to slide up and and down a rail as needed.
If you’re keen to expend even more energy, then a treadmill desk might be just the ticket. You’d be in good company as Microsoft and Google are among the early-adopters of the walking-while-you-work philosophy. Visit Gymworld for inspiration.

Any of the above strategies will prove effective in promoting spinal health resulting in happier – and healthier – employers and personnel.

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