People who work in offices are all too familiar with the problem: we arrive at the office in the morning, sit for hours without moving at the desk and only stand up to walk to the coffee machine or fetch something from the printer. Some people seem to cope without any problems, while others soon start to suffer from tension in the neck, shoulders and lower back.
Many people continue to sit still even after they’ve finished work. We sit in the car on the way to the shops. We arrive home and sit on the sofa to watch the latest series on Netflix. Sport? Not likely. Back pain isn’t just caused by office work, but by a general lack of movement in everyday life.
And yet it isn’t so hard to introduce more movement into your lives. We shall be looking into the problem of back pain at work and asking Frank Thömmes, an expert in exercise and ergonomic workstations, for his opinion. You will find out how to include more exercise in your everyday lives at the office with some simple back exercises to do at the workstation and get some recommendations for products to help you work ergonomically.
How serious is back pain?
Office work is not great for the back. But that’s nothing new of course. Many workers suffer from back pain and troublesome muscle tension. But there is some good news! Many back problems can be relieved, or in many cases even cured, by taking more exercise. An active lifestyle helps of course and special back exercises to strengthen muscles and stretching are also particularly important.
Before showing you a couple of back exercises, we want to look into the issue a little more closely. So we asked someone who has a great deal of expertise when it comes to backs. Thanks to his experience, Frank Thömmes has already helped a great many people with back problems; he trains trainers and therapists in Germany and worldwide and has written several books on backs and ergonomics at the workstation. Read the interview now in the next article.
Interview with back expert Frank Thömmes
Mr Thömmes, is constantly sitting in an office harmful to our health?
Yes, definitely! Studies over several decades have shown for certain that sitting can lead to health problems. In fact, sitting itself is not the problem. It’s more the fact that we are not moving at all over long periods spent in the office. Even those carrying out monotonous movements every day can experience issues with their backs. This cannot be offset by training after work.
How does office work lead to back pain?
Our back is actually designed for us to spend most of our time moving around upright. If we don’t do this, our muscle tone decreases. Suddenly parts of our body come into contact, which are not supposed to do so. We often use our body on just one side, which can lead to “structural fatigue”. That hurts! And if you take other factors into account, such as excess weight and stress, back pain is bound to happen.
The key word here is prevention: what can workers do to avoid back pain in the office?
Workers who spend a lot of time sitting at an office desk should stand up every half hour. There are many opportunities to bring more movement into our everyday lives. We should also avoid passing the blame onto others or onto the circumstances. Each of us is responsible for our own bodies and we should be listening to them. It is particularly important not to wait until you are already in pain before you start. An active lifestyle is the best prevention and will keep you fit!
Last but not least: do you have any tips for back exercises to do in the office?
The best exercises are those we do regularly! It’s also important to do the exercises properly. The brain can’t decide for itself what’s right and what’s wrong. So it’s better to let an expert show you. Do exercises that stretch the front of your body and elongate the back of your upper body. In my book “Wer länger sitzt, ist früher tot” (“People who sit for longer die earlier”), I provide many practical tips to help keep you moving in the office and stay healthy. By strengthening and mobilising various parts of the body, as well as stretching routines and self-massage.
Thank you very much for the interview, Mr Thömmes.
Easy ways to incorporate movement into everyday lives
Take a critical look at your daily lifestyle. Set yourself the challenge of finding at least five situations, in which you can transform your everyday life and at the same time aim for some great results. Take the stairs instead of the lift, go to see your colleague in the office next door instead of reaching for the phone. Take a walk after lunch to fill your lungs with oxygen and get fit!
How about cycling to work? That way, you won’t need to stir yourself in the evenings to go and do some sport. You will simply be doing it as you go along. Special prevention courses for back training or yoga also help you to get more exercise and strengthen your back. Many health insurance companies will even cover most of the costs of these.
How to help treat back pain
How you sit in the office is also important. Make sure that your monitor is in the right position. Flexible monitor mounts, which you can be individually adjusted, will help here. Novus offers a wide range of monitor support arms. These are practical for office work, when several screens or particular flexibility are required. Take a look at the Novus Tetra support system (1) with its monitor support arms or the ergonomic, spring-supported Novus LiftTEC® (2) support arm. This can easily be adjusted upwards, downwards, forwards and backwards and is easy to tilt thanks to the integrated ball-and-socket joint.
You can also find more information on ergonomic working in our article on Ergonomics at the workstation.
A couple of little changes to your everyday life – soon you will be much more mobile!
5 back exercises for the office
It doesn’t matter whether you do the exercises in the office or at home, the main thing is that you do them. We have 5 simple back exercises for you, which you will be able to do quite easily.
- Stretch your spine! Sit up straight, interlock your hands and stretch your arms upwards. Hold for a couple of seconds and then lower your arms again.
- Stretch your chest muscles! Sit on the edge of your chair and stretch your arms out to both sides. Then stretch both your arms backwards until you feel the stretch. Hold the stretch for a couple of seconds.
- Relax you neck! Bend your head to the right and hold it with your right arm so that you feel the stretch. Hold for ten seconds and then let go. Now do the other side.
- Train your stomach muscles! Sit on your office chair and pull your legs up towards your body. Hold the position for as long as you can. Breathe in and out slowly all the time.
- Stretch out your back! Lay your upper body gently down onto your thighs and hold your ankles. Arch your back and hold the stretch for one to two minutes.
Regular exercise is the best medicine for preventing back pain or to stop it ever happening in the first place. With our exercises, you will be making the first step towards this!