The plight of the desk job
One of the most commonly publicized ailments of the human body is low back pain. Experts estimate that up to 80 percent of the population will experience low back pain at some time in their lives.1
Low back pain is the third most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office, behind skin disorders and osteoarthritis and joint disorders. It typically costs Americans at least $50 billion in health care costs each year.2, 3 Most cases of back pain are mechanical or non-organic—meaning they are not caused by serious conditions, such as infection, single-incident trauma, or cancer.4
Low back pain at work
At work, many of our patients are subjected to hours upon hours of less than favorable ergonomic postures. Many people sit at their desk, drive for long hours, or engage in repetitive tasks with various body parts.
Prolonged stress to any body part or joint can create instability, stress, muscle tightness, nerve irritation, and then pain. With a joint or joints out of alignment, our patients’ biomechanics or movement patterns are not healthy and increase the risk of injury.
Many workers do not realize the importance of spinal and extremity alignment and can’t make the connection to why they are in pain. A typical example of this is my patient, Donna. Donna is a 50-year-old woman who has a desk job doing clerical work.
She works an 8-hour day and is typically sitting for 98 percent of that time. She has episodes of chronic low back and hip pain that afflict her every few months. She has always consulted her family physician, who has recommended rest, medication, and physical therapy.
Until she came to my office, she never understood how her lumbosacral spine and hips could be out of alignment and be the cause of her muscle spasms and pain.
The long-term effects of poor posture
When the average worker is doing his or her job, most do not feel any ill effects after sitting with poor posture for a couple of hours. But just think about what poor posture will do over the course of one week, one month, or one year. The stress that poor posture places on the body can lead to unhealthy anatomical changes in the back, neck, hips, knees, shoulders, elbows, and wrists. This, in turn, can create or flare up back pain through the constriction of the blood vessels and nerves. In addition, the stress from poor posture can lead to back pain by causing problems with the muscles, discs, and joints.
Although poor posture is evident in many facets of daily life, including while at work, we can help our patients improve their posture and reduce low back pain through the following methods:
Posture Analysis or Structural Fingerprint Exam. Taking specific aspects of standing posture gives us data and observations directing us to specific changes each patient needs.
Chiropractic care. Keeping patients aligned helps reduce unhealthy movement patterns and minimize wear and tear on the body.
Custom foot orthotics that support all three arches of the feet. This allows for proper and complete support of the feet and a stable foundation for the ankles, knees, hips, pelvis, spine, shoulders, and head. In 2017, a study published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation showed custom orthotics help reduce low back pain.
Stretching and strengthening exercise. Improving flexibility and strength increases range of motion, supports better movement, and improves control.
Low back pain impacts not only our patients but also businesses. Data shows low back pain in the workplace has reached epidemic proportions. Worldwide, back pain is the single leading cause of disability and accounts for 264 million lost work days.5, 6, 7
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, employers pay between $39 – $78 billion in indirect costs annually because of back injuries. Data from the National Safety Council shows workers’ compensation claims for low back pain were almost $40,000, or higher than the average cost for injuries to other parts of the body.6
As chiropractors, we have the ability and the responsibility to help our patients improve their health and businesses improve their workplaces. By treating our patients with adjustments, supporting their foot arches with proper orthotics, and utilizing other ergonomic tools, we can help improve the way their bodies respond to work demands.
By educating employers about the importance of posture and alignment, we can help employers reduce the effects of fatigue and strain on the body, lower the risk of injury, and decrease missed time off and disability claims that are a result of low back pain.
This will keep our patients healthier and both our patients and employers happier.
Kevin Wong, DC, is an expert on foot analysis, walking and standing postures, and orthotics. He discusses spinal and extremity adjusting at speaking engagements. He can be contacted through orindachiropractic.com.
1 Rubin Dl. Epidemiology and Risk Factors for Spine Pain. Neurol Clin. 2007; May;25(2):353-71.
2 Sauver, JL et al. Why patients visit their doctors: Assessing the most prevalent conditions in a defined American population. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Volume 88, Issue 1, 56–67.
3 Katz JN. Lumbar disc disorders and low-back pain: socioeconomic factors and consequences [review]. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2006;88(suppl 2): 21-24.
4 Hartvigsen J et al. Low Back Pain Series: What Low Back Pain Is and Why We Need to Pay Attention. Lancet, June 2018; Volume 391, Issue 10137; p2356-2367.
5 Hoy D, March L, Brooks P, et al. The global burden of low back pain: estimates from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases Published Online First: 24 March 2014. doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2013-204428
6 The Hidden Impact of Musculoskeletal Disorders on Americans, United States Bone and Joint Initiative, 2018.
7 Katz JN. Lumbar disc disorders and low-back pain: socioeconomic factors and consequences [review]. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2006;88(suppl 2): 21-24.