The Desk worker’s top tips for preventing neck and backpain

Most of us experience an episode of backpain during our lives. Since the 1990’s it has been one of the most expensive physical conditions and between 1990 and 2015 its prevalence increased by 54 %. Rigorous meta-analysis shows that the problem is getting worse also in child and adolescent populations. So the problem is painful – and getting worse.

Reasons behind pain can be many. Sometimes the reasons may be self-evident – an acute injury, or muscle soreness after a strength workout. More often, however, the cause is less apparent. Lifestyles of stress, excessive screen time, poor posture or for example an unfit bed, cause tension to accumulate and repeatedly puts our body in positions it wasn’t designed for. The pain may paralyze you suddenly, for example when you’re picking up a pen or scratching a dog (both true client stories), but in fact, it’s been building up for a while.

Pain prevention starts by understanding and addressing the root-cause. For most of us, whether you are a Formula 1 driver or an office worker, the underlying issue is our culture of sitting. Sitting poses two big strains for our body. First, sitting is passive, which reduces our body control and coordination, increasing the risk for acute injuries. The second problem comes from suboptimal static positions. This tends to weaken some muscles and stiffen others, bending our spine into unnatural positions. No wonder we experience pain – it’s our body’s warning signal for actual of potential damage.

To effectively prevent pain, three principles can be applied. Here are tips and best practices for each.

1. Boost awareness of your positions

How are you sitting or standing right now? Did you correct your posture when reading that? Becoming aware of the positions you spend your day in is the first and most fundamental step towards preventing pain. There is no “one perfect posture”. Everyone does, however, have an individual perfect posture: the one in which your spine is naturally curved and under least amount of strain. Try tying posture awareness to an existing routine. For example, build a routine of straightening your posture every time you walk past a mirror or window, brush your teeth, stand in line, or put a post-it on your computer screen to remind yourself.

2. Move more – sit less

Movement is medicine – quite literally. Increasing the amount of even short bouts of light exercise helps activate cell metabolism, reducing muscle viscosity and tension – and reminds your body to coordinate. What parts of your day could you do without sitting? Schedule walking meetings with colleagues, do your creative tasks outdoors in nature, work standing for 2 to 3 hours per day or get up every hour for a minute. Another option is to invest in body activating seats: try an exercise ball, a saddle chair, or a balance board. (Do note, however, that it’s possible to sit in poor posture in these seats as well!)

3. Counteract “the banana bend”

A corporate client of mine once aptly pointed out that she feels she’s “fallen into a symbiosis with her computer”. We ‘ve started calling this position “the banana bend”. It’s the natural consequence of too much sitting and forward movement without straightening ourselves out.

This banana bend causes tight hamstrings, hip-flexors, pictorials and weak back chain, glutei and upper back muscles. In order to counteract it, we need to serve the body with counter exercises, i.e. lengthening tight muscles and strengthening weak ones.

Little and often is better than much and rarely. Pick from here the best mobility exercises for your neck and shoulders, lower limbs, and back. A colleague of mine once said that if you don’t take time to tend to your wellbeing today, you must take time later to tend to sickness. This saying couldn’t be more on point when it comes to preventing back pain. Offence is the best defense. The key is to find the routines that work best for you and optimize your environment to make change as easy as possible.

Speaker: Eleonoora Hintsa

  • Performance Coach at Hintsa Performance

Eleonoora Hintsa is a Performance Coach at Hintsa Peformance, working with a wide range of clients from sports to business executives. Her coaching roots started in synchronized figure skating, working with 120 athletes in six teams. From there she moved on to motorsports, and ultimately to working with business professionals on holistic wellbeing.

Eleonoora has a Masters in Sports Sciences where she, firstly, focused on the link between physical activity and cognitive performance, and secondly, on the science of creating successful, lasting behavioural change.

Eleonoora shared her views also on Technopolis Wellness Talks webinar "Preventing pain: Top tips for back, neck, and shoulder activation", which was organized on June 9, 2021.

Working life that cares for you

This, with a range of other topics will be discussed in the Technopolis Wellness Talks webinars powered by Hintsa Performance throughout 2021. Hintsa Performance coaches and experts will share their experience and tips on work, wellbeing, performance, and life in general. Join us online and invite your colleagues too. Technopolis Wellness Talks are for our customers and their employees only. Technopolis provides workspace that support your health and wellbeing. Happy employees are healthier and more productive.