Article featured in Connect Magazine (EFHK)
The official figures report that some 80% of Hong Kong’s work force have suffered from or are suffering regularly from back pain.
In my experience the figures are even higher.
My latest employee sample at an on-site ergonomic assessment showed that 100% of the workers were regularly suffering from back, neck and shoulder tension and pain.
Back pain together with anxiety and depression are the top causes for days taken off work in Hong Kong.
Even more often, back pain is the reason for days suffered at work, since I know that many of my clients feel they can not take time off due to their pressing work schedules.
A tight schedule is probably also the reason why most people will wait for their pain to be almost disabling before they seek help. At this point the road to recovery is most likely going to be longer, so the economy of leaving it until the last minute does not work in your favour.
Why do so many of us have pain issues?
A modern lifestyle certainly has a lot to answer for.
Especially office workers spend a large percentage of their day sitting down. Lunch is often delivered right to the desk and in the evening after a long day a soft sofa feels like a reward well deserved.
Focussing on screens, using laptops instead of desk-top computers, looking down on our phones, always working with our hands in front of us easily leads to the ubiquitous head-forward posture now often referred to as text-neck. This increases the weight carried by the muscles at the back of the neck by 10lbs for every inch the head in front of its normal position. Chronic neck tension as well as early onset spinal deterioration are the consequences.
Another problem is slouching. It is not only habitual these days, but even accepted as the norm with shop mannequins giving us the impression that standing with our body out of good alignment looks good.
We lack positive role-models and postural education when learning new skills. No cell phone comes with a user guide for good handling, even though many people use them for several hours a day.
Ergonomic assessments of work stations are still rare in Hong Kong and schools no longer see it as their responsibility to encourage better posture in their students during those crucial years of childhood and adolescence.
Chronic pain issues ensue at a much younger age now.
The more we slouch forward the more the muscles along the back of our body become lengthened and weakened. Holding ourselves upright becomes uncomfortable and tiring and so we do it less and less, weakening our backs even further.
Another detrimental effect of leaning forward is that we compress our lungs, our hearts and our digestive system. We breathe less efficiently, take in less oxygen and get fatigued more quickly.
The digestive tract is squeezed and cannot function optimally, this can lead to problems such as bloating, reflux and an irritable bowel.
Even doing something positive like exercise is less effective and potentially dangerous when we do it with a tense and misaligned body. Especially after the age of 40 when our physical recovery time is increased and our bodies have been challenged by gravity for several decades many sports people suffer more regularly from injury. In practice I see a lot of injuries sustained during tennis, golf, running, yoga and TRX classes injuries. The sport is not usually to blame for the injury though, but the physical state we are in when we do them.
Luckily we can learn how to apply our body better in our daily activities. With individual assessment we can find out where we need to work on length and flexibility, where on strength and how to improve our general alignment.
The reward is more energy, less pain and less injuries.
Performed by primary healthcare professionals osteopathic treatment aims at removing physical restrictions that interfere with our mobility and our ability to recover from pain and injury. It is a safe and gentle manual therapy and it is very effective as osteopaths assess the whole body and can focus on working to resolve the main restrictions, which are not necessarily at the site of the pain.
If problems are due to habitual misuse of the our bodies then postural education and specific exercises are invaluable for maintaining continued health and fitness.
In individuals of a tall and slender physique problems of spinal deformation (scoliosis) and weakness are very common. Women are more commonly afflicted by these conditions. The focus here would be on stabilising the skeletal structure, educating the patient on finding an appropriate centre of gravity during all daily activities and give exercises and ideas on how to gradually strengthen the neglected muscles at the back of the body.
For very tense individuals work to decompress the spine and relax the muscles is very important. Here it will also be necessary to advice on how to use only the muscles required for a specific activity, rather than constantly overcompensating with unnecessary tension, which often leads to pain syndromes.
We can relax more easily when we learn to remain in our structural centre and let our bones resist gravity rather than our muscles.
Some tips on how to protect your back at work:
- Don’t sit for extended periods of time! Get up regularly (every 20 mins) and give yourself a little stretch if your feel tension.
- Stay well hydrated (about 2 litres of pure water per day). This helps to reduce tension from toxin accumulation and will also get you up to use the washroom.
- Get an ergonomic assessment for your work desk. You may need a footstool if you are not very tall, move the screen you are working with up to be at eye level, need a wrist support and the like.
- Never use a laptop as an alternative to a desk-top computer. You end up looking down all the time.
- Sit with both feet flat on the ground and avoid crossing your legs.
Since we have often lost a good sense of balance, better ways of sitting, standing and even lying down are best experienced and practised under the guidance of a professional if we want to avoid getting tense when trying to regain a better posture.back pain Osteopathy posture