Castle Personal Training is a Corstorphine, Edinburgh based company who specialise in weightloss/toning and Pre and Post Natal exercise.
I was talking to one of my clients about backpain the other day. Not fancy backpain, not about ruptured discs or damaged nerves, but bog-standard “I sit at my desk all day and therefore my back hurts” lower back pain.
She mentioned that the company she works for, which employs thousands of people, has a 3-4% absentee rate due to illness and 30-40% of that was due to back trouble. Now even if we just take paid days off, lower productivity etc. in to account you can probably tell this is an expensive problem for a large multi-national. And the smaller the company gets the bigger the impact of employees being off sick is. So meet the rise of the ergonomic chair.
We can all picture the scenario;
Employee complains of muscular lower back pain, blames his/her chair, desk or whatever. Employee goes to the company’s HR, or Employee Wellness, department and says “I have lower back pain, I need a special chair that supports my lumbar region”. I’ve assumed the employee has spent a minute with Dr Google and therefore knows that lumbar support is important and that lack of it can cause back pain.
The company looks down a long list of expensive chairs and spends a few grand giving the employee a new chair, an adjustable desk, a new mouse, keyboard etc.
A bit over the top maybe but ergonomically sound.
The employee sits back at the desk and immediately his/her back feels better, for a while….usually about 2 weeks. After that the back pain is back but at least there’s a shiny new desk and chair in the office. At this stage the employee just accepts that lower back pain is a fact of life and starts phoning in sick again whenever they wake up with a crippling pain down their back.
You see there are several problems with the above situation;
1; The above scenario is reactive. The employee has back-pain and then gets a new chair/desk etc. This does not work. This is like someone breaking a leg and then just giving them a foot stool to place their sore leg on. Yeah, it’ll feel better than walking on it but it doesn’t fundamentally solve the problem. You’re not taking the backpain away by supplying someone with a comfy new chair. Ergonomics has to be pro-active; it can help prevent back pain but it won’t fix it.
2; The direct cause of the backpain is NEVER the chair, or the desk. It’s almost always posture. Now a lot of ergonomic chair sales-people will tell you that a good chair will fix that but that’s not completely accurate. An “ergonomically well-designed environment” is just one small part of the solution to preventing poor posture. The problem really comes down to one thing; The human factor.
I don’t care how well-designed your chair is, someone working on a keyboard and staring at a screen for 8 hours a day will find a way to sit in it with shitty posture.
Yeah, his chair is really helping.
Now of course you could instruct people to sit properly and have someone walk around the office with a cane and whack your staff when they start to slouch, but I think there might be some sort of law against that these days.
Obviously the sales-person who designed your “Ergonomically perfect environment” will offer to spend time “training” people to use their equipment correctly and is more than happy to spend time with the employee setting the everything up correctly. Considering most decent ergonomic consultants make about 100k a year I’m sure they won’t do it for free.
The problem is that, for most people, it’s simply comfier to slouch and lean forward a little bit. They know what to do, they just don’t. So we have to come up with a different solution and it really is frighteningly simple. The thing that really stops people slouching without them even knowing it.
You never saw that coming, did you?
What if I told you that most lower back pain is very easily fixed with some strength training of the right muscles? What if I then also told you that strengthening those muscles up makes it much easier for people to sit with decent posture without them having to actively think about it? And then finally, what if I told you it’d cost you a fraction of the price of a chair that won’t work?
I’ll even tell you what to do for free.
Here’s are the things to train;
Rear delts, upper-back, glutes and core.
Here is a little circuit that will help most people;
Click the link for a Youtube clip of the exercise.
Lat Pulldowns x 15
Reverse lunges x 15
Step ups x 10
Walking plank x 10
Hollow hold x max
Side Plank with dips x 10
Here are the things to stretch;
Notice how I didn’t even mention the lower back here? That is because, most of the time in the situation described above, the lower back pain isn’t actually caused by anything in the lower back.
So now we are back to the employee with lower back-pain who pops his/her head into HR and says “I need a new chair etc.” the people in HR should really just turn around and say; “Listen, your chair is fine go to the gym”. Remember, back pain can not be fixed by getting someone a new chair, a nice chair can only help prevent it.
As an aside; I have spoken to a ridiculous number of guys and girls in their 20s and 30s that think having lower back-pain is normal and just a way of life as it “comes with the job”. It really isn’t. Come on, you’re in your early 30s, you shouldn’t feel like a 70 year old!
At the end of the day this is about personal responsibility guys. You are responsible for your own health and well-being. If you happen to work for an employer that helps you out with this then that’s great but at the end of the day; you are the one suffering from back pain so why would you not be expected to put a bit of time in and fix it. The above circuit takes me about 30 minutes to do. The stretches take 5.
If you do the correct exercises and stretches you will find that most muscular lower back pain can be fixed within 4-6 weeks just by exercising 2-3 times per week. That definitely is not too much to ask. And if you need a bit of help, you know where I am and I’m cheaper than a chair.
Take care of yourself, and your back