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Ergonomics for Relieving Back Pain

Chances are you do a lot of sitting throughout the day. Whether it is in the car, at a desk, or watching television. Think of your posture in this position. You are more than likely hunching forward. This position puts strain on your neck and done day in and day out without a counter stretch, creates long-term discomfort and misalignment. Think of a tall straight spine and then stand naturally in front of the mirror and notice how your spine curves from the bottom to the top. Is your neck pushing forward? Many of us are so used to seeing people with bad posture, we do not even realize we have it. Posture is a silent predator because it is created slowly over time. Try moving your computer screen up to eye level so you do not look down towards your screen. Move your chair closer to your desk so you can sit up straight. Make sure your feet can sit flat on the floor to relieve pressure from your lower back. Take stretch breaks every 20-30 minutes to get your circulation flowing and allow the energy to flow through your meridians.

Ergonomics is the study of repetitive movements that put stress on your musculosketal system. If you repeatedly hold the phone between your right ear and shoulder, your neck will be strained and muscles will develop more on one side than the other. If you always carry a baby on one hip or swing a tennis racket with one arm, think of how that will pull your spine out of alignment. It is important to pay attention to our repetitive motions that may be causing pinched nerves or awkward positions. To counteract hunching forward you can interlace your hands behind your back and pull your shoulder blades toward each other on your back spreading across your collar bone.

Perhaps you have a more labor intensive job where you either do a lot of standing, walking or lifting. When I had jobs of this nature including witnessing, housekeeping, and cashier, I learned some ergonomic techniques that dramatically reduced my back pain. First lets talk about how we stand. I was taught that the British guards can stand long periods of time without back or foot pain or the feeling of exhaustion. This is because they align their skeleton properly. Try taking a slight bend in the knees and point your tailbone down without tucking it under. Think of the pelvis as a bowl holding water. When your standing, are you swaying your back so the water is spilling out the front? Do you favor one side and stick your hip out? Become aware of your body in physical space and consciously make an effort to stand this way.

Next let’s discuss how you walk. Often as a waitress I would walk up to 8 miles a day in one shift. I would get home and my back would throb and my feet were shot. A good friend of mine told me to walk on my whole foot instead of banging my heels. This makes you feel like your kind of gliding across the floor but it worked so well I never had sore feet or back problems again in that job and I was working on a concrete floor. Allow your whole foot to meet the ground when you walk instead of walking from heal to heal. You will notice how you will feel the ball of your foot connect to the earth.

If you are doing a lot of heavy lifting, try squatting instead of bending forward. If you lift with your legs, you will avoid straining your back. Also, if you are doing something that requires you to hunch forward such as making a bed or woodworking, take frequent breaks and put your hands on your lower back and arch backwards. This is called a counter pose. It gives your muscles a break and brings things back into alignment. Think of any other repetitive motions in your day. Do you always use the mouse at your computer desk on the right side? Maybe try switching it to the left. Do you always carry a purse or briefcase on one side? Make a mental or paper note to yourself to switch it up. We are creatures of habit and those habits do affect our bodies. We have the power to bring our awareness to our ergonomics and feel better. Speaking from experience, these minor changes will help reduce your back pain and those frequent stretch breaks will help you focus and give you more energy. Try putting a stretch reminder in your phone or asking the boss to designate a stretching room to improve efficiency, accuracy and morale.

Shannon Yrizarry

Shannon Yrizarry is a health and wellness professional who was healed from chronic back pain in 2003 after studying the mind-body connection. She went on to study the physical and mental benefits of yoga and now teaches classes and workshops in Southern California. She has also worked as an organic health consultant and writes about how to eat a clean whole foods diet incorporating gluten-free, raw, and dairy free options.