Back pain is common in people who spend extended periods of time sitting in an office. For some people, office back pain is a continuation of a preexisting condition that simply gets aggravated by too much sitting. For other people, office back pain comes as a result of all that time spent in an office chair. Regardless of how it started, here are some of the most common office-related causes of back pain—and what you can do about them.
Office Back Pain: Tight Hip Flexors
Office chairs were designed for sitting but people’s bodies were not. Despite the fact that we are able to sit, does not mean that we should spend 8+ hours a day doing it. Indeed, sitting is ergonomically very strenuous on the body. The position relaxes the glutes and otherwise allows the lower back muscles to disengage. The body compensates by tensing up the muscles of the middle and upper back. As the core muscles can switch off when you are seated, they offer little support for the back. Perhaps the biggest culprits, though, are the hip flexors. Sitting for extended periods of time shortens the hip flexors and they get tighter as a result. This tension in the hip flexors puts strain on the vertebra of the lower back.
Office Back Pain Solution #1: Sit on a Pillow
Hip flexors are like two cables attaching your thigh bone to the lower five vertebrae of your spine. Your hip flexors function is to contract and lift your leg in towards your chest. In a seated position, the hip flexors continuously remain at a shorter length—as if they are semi-contracted. This causes the muscle fibers to shorten which then pulls more on the lower back. By sitting on a pillow or special support, your pelvis is able to tilt forward. This allows the hip flexors to release and takes pressure off the low back.
Office Back Pain Solution #2: Sit on an Exercise Ball
Similar to sitting on a pillow, sitting on an exercise ball frees up the pelvis. Sit with both feet on the floor and allow the pelvis to tilt forward. It is important to have the right height of ball so that this is possible without slipping off. You also want the ball to be inflated until it is firm. This will force you to balance on the ball. While balance will become second nature over time, it will make your core muscles engage. Having the core muscles engaged helps to support the back and should alleviate some back pain.
Office Back Pain Solution #3: Stretch
If you have tight hip flexors from sitting all day, regular stretching will help with your hip flexors and back pain. Even if it is just for five minutes at the end of the day. Here are some simple stretches that will help give your hips and back some much-needed space:
Hip and Quad Stretch
- Start standing. Kick one heel up towards your butt and grab that ankle.
- Pull your ankle closer to your body as you push that same hip forwards.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Start standing and fold forward over your thighs.
- Take a big step back into a lunge and lower your back knee to the floor.
- Lift your torso up and use your front thigh as a support.
- Sink deeper into your lunge until you feel a stretch in the front of your back leg.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Start seated and sit on a pillow—just like you do in your office chair—to help release your hip flexors.
- Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together.
- If this is enough of a stretch stay here. Otherwise, fold forward over your legs to deepen the stretch.
Office Back Pain Solution #4: Stand
To give your back and break and re-lengthen your hip flexors, try standing while you work. Be sure to wear supportive footwear and adjust your posture if you feel yourself beginning to slouch. Keep your knees a little bit bent to allow your pelvis to move freely. Just like when you are sitting on an exercise ball, engage the core muscles slightly. You should feel your tailbone tilt a bit more towards the ground. Now, draw your shoulder blades together and relax them down you back. Pull your chin back in space so you are not straining your neck forward. Be sure to check in with your posture every half hour or so to make sure it is not causing you any more back pain.
Office Back Pain and Stress
If you have tried all of the above suggestions and are still experiencing back pain, it may be related to stress. If this is the case, consider incorporating meditation into your day. Keep trying things until you find something that works. A reduced amount of back pain will make you more productive, which is great for you and your company. You may also find that less back pain means you have an easier time letting go of your time at the office at the end of each day. That is enough of a reason to deal with your tight hip flexors sooner rather than later.