Pay attention to spine ergonomics to avoid neck and back pain

July 13, 2021
Pay attention to spine ergonomics to avoid neck and back pain

More and more Malaysians between the ages of 25-40 – particularly those working from home, spending long hours in front of their devices – complain of discomfort and pain in the neck and lower back region. Musculoskeletal pain from an improper desk set-up, an unsupportive chair, or just long hours sitting down is a common issue among home workers.

With Malaysia in another full Movement Control Order (FMC0 3.0) with no apparent end in sight, a rise in back- and neck-related disorders amongst young working professionals is expected – however, working from home need not be uncomfortable and can be made more pleasant by changing certain lifestyle habits.

Work from home practices have shifted movement-related dynamics as working adults remain glued to their desks and screens for longer hours each day; many even slouch over their devices or work from the bed. According to a recent study published in the International Journal of Health Sciences and Research, 70.5% of work-from-home participants aged between 18-65 years have reported pain in their lower backs and/or necks – the inevitable outcome of improper sitting and working positions.

Sitting for extended periods without proper posture or ergonomic support is “detrimental to not only your spine and back muscles, but for your overall health,” says Dr. Lim Sze Wei, Consultant Orthopaedic, Spine and Trauma Surgeon, ALTY Orthopaedic Hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

“Unsupported postures cause the loads on your spine to disperse incorrectly, weakening the tissues in your lower back. As a result, the intricate network of muscles, discs, and joints in your back tend to be pushed beyond their tolerable limit, causing pain.

“These can manifest into severe long-term degenerative problems of the spine such as slipped disc and sciatica pain leading to further discomfort.”

While ergonomics are essential and proper ergonomic alignment matters, just some simple changes in the desk setting and posture alertness can help mitigate long-term effects arising from lower back pain. For example, the way you angle your laptop or screen while working is definitely important to reduce incidences of neck pain. An ideal laptop height and angle lets you view the screen without rotating or flexing your neck, so consider using a laptop stand or simply elevate the laptop with a stack of books.

Dr. Lim further recommends having a proper workstation set up that allows you to sit and work comfortably at home. In most cases, a sturdy table and chair would suffice. You can even place a cushion at the back of your chair to support your spine while sitting.

Consider also using a toadstool so that the feet are well supported, keep elbows at a 90-degree angle as you work on your laptop and change positions every few hours to keep from slouching on the desk. You can also get a family member or friend to nudge you when you start slouching, so you can correct your sitting position.

Finally, including some light stretches in your workday is a good way to avoid aches and pains at the end of the day. Stretching is both beneficial for your back and a great way to take a break from the screen, improve blood circulation and mental stimulation.

However, anyone experiencing lower back pain that is severe or does not go away with gentle stretches and exercise should make an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible, adds Dr. Lim.

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