Whether it’s the hours on your laptop or merely bad posture that’s been giving you pain in your back, you are not alone. We got leading experts in Singapore to answer some of the commonly asked questions on managing our backs better - read on and find that welcome relief!
1. Since most of us spend a lot of time at our workplaces hunched over a desktop, how can we ensure that we are taking care of our backs?
Laura, a physiotherapist and ergonomic specialist from Health2U, shares some ergo tips. She is passionate about helping treat those in pain as well as optimising workplaces for people to prevent pain and strain.
With so much of our lives being lived at work it’s crucial that we help ourselves to keep healthy and well at all times, rather than create problems such as arm, neck and back pain. The best way to help ourselves stay pain- and injury-free is to follow a few simple rules. The golden rule is to take frequent mini-breaks! Just standing up and stretching, or walking on the spot gives your body a valuable change-of- position.
Ensure your screen is at the right height where the top third of the screen should be in line with your eyes. Keep your keyboard and mouse close. Your keyboard should be no more than 10cm from the edge of the desk and your mouse should be right next to it. Sit with your back supported. Sitting with your bottom at the back of the chair, so your back is supported, can help alleviate aching muscles. Obviously each person is unique, so individual requirements vary. If you’re having pain or discomfort, chat to your Physiotherapist about an ergonomic assessment. You spend the majority of your life at your workplace, make sure it’s a comfortable life.
2. What is the most common lifestyle mistake you see your patients making when it comes to their backs?
A favourite with the ladies in Singapore, Charlotte Manning from The Osteopathic Centre shares her thoughts.
One of the most common mistakes I see is poor sleep position. Many patients complain of either lower back pain or neck pain and when this is investigated further, I find patients who sleep on their fronts for sustained periods of time experience back pain. The worst scenarios present when a patient has an extremely soft mattress where their lumbar spine is held in a fixed extended position and may feel locked when they attempt to move out of this position. This is then usually accompanied by local muscle spasm. Poor pillow choice if you're a stomach sleeper is also a problem, as the neck is held in maximum rotation for a sustained period which can also lead to locking and possible muscle spasm.
Patients should ideally sleep on their sides or on their backs. Mattresses should be firm enough to support the spine but soft enough to not alter regular spinal curves when the body is relaxed. Pillows should provide enough support to ensure the head doesn't drop backwards or too much to the side. Your head should be in a neutral position so no unnecessary pressure is put on the cervical joints which could lead to muscle spasm and discomfort.
3. What are the ways to keep your back in shape?
Chiropractor and Author, Dr. Tim Errington from Total Health Chiropractic, tells us what to watch out for.
Without any doubt, your most important asset is your health. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who has been touched by a serious health condition, or someone for whom every step is agony. In this modern world you live in, all that time spent sitting, slouching over your computer, really is causing lasting damage as deconditioning and postural slump take a hold. We see it every day – minor postural changes escalating quickly into major spinal distortions and deformities. This is the reason why having a “keep an eye on it” approach, suggested by many doctors, is flawed as it can lead to devastating results. Postural problems don’t go away…they worsen! If you suspect that you or your loved ones might be developing a postural or spinal problem, please do not ignore it. Remember, your body is going to carry you through life, and it’s up to you to ensure that the body you are creating is one that you will enjoy living in.
4. What’s your favorite stretch for the back and why?
Dr. Fisher from Genesis Chiropractic helps us understand why and how we need to stretch.
The majority of Singapore residents are moving into a predictable posture pattern. Coming from desk bound jobs, daily use of mobile technology and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, the impact on the spine and overall health is becoming an epidemic. This type of repetitive activity shifts the head forward, and the upper back, core, glutes all become weak. This causes the shoulders to roll forward into a poor posture position tightening the chest muscles, low back extensors, hip flexors and the hamstrings. So, you want to think about reversing that. A good general stretch is to stretch the hamstrings and hip flexors. Even though they are not necessarily your "back" they attach into your pelvis. This will help reduce the impact that the poor posture has on the back and the symptoms and health issues that go along with it. Of course, it is best to have yourself examined by a qualified doctor of chiropractic who can give you more precise stretches and exercises for your own unique needs.
5. What is the most common ailment you have seen in your patients when it comes to their backs? And the easiest solution to this?
Acclaimed Chiropractor and Nutritionist, Dr. Cory Gallagher, from the True Chiropractic Group tells us more
The most common ailment we see as chiropractors is spinal degeneration. Most people are not aware, but the spine can break down in the same way as our teeth and other joints in the body.
This degeneration usually happens over many years and is either associated with a high impact trauma (car accident, sports injury, slip and fall), or an accumulation of day-to-day bad habits (computer posture, excessive hand phone use, sleeping position).
The easiest solution is prevention. Having an ergonomic work station and proper posture will go a long way towards warding off aches and pains. If someone does feel aches and pains, it is best to not ignore them. If the symptoms are being caused by degeneration, and they are neglected, there is a risk of it getting worse over time.
6. Gadgets and back supports; do they actually help?
Sébastien Bodet, Osteopath and Sports Therapist at UFIT cautions on the overuse of back support belts.
It is often claimed that wearing a back belt will support your spine and prevent a back injury. The truth is that wearing an elastic or other support around your waist to help your back may do more harm than good. The main risk associated with wearing a back belt is that during the period of wearing it, the supportive spinal muscles — the deep abdominal and back muscles — that normally support your spine will become weaker. Another risk associated with wearing a back belt is that it causes an increase in both blood pressure and heart rate. This may pose a problem for those individuals with existing cardiovascular disease or risk factors, such as hypertension. A third risk associated with wearing a back belt is that workers may be inclined to lift heavier objects while wearing them. These belts may be giving workers a false sense of security. This could result in an increased risk of injury.
My recommendation is that you should wear a supportive belt only for the first few days or weeks after a severe back injury while the area is healing or only during the lifting of very heavy objects. If you have never had a back injury, I would avoid a belt entirely. It is more important to focus on using proper form and posture when bending and lifting and even sitting, and to perform conditioning exercises regularly to keep your trunk muscles strong.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the professionals quoted