More people now work in desk-bound office jobs than in more active and movable posts. Sitting in an office chair for prolonged periods of time can definitely cause low back pain or worsen an existing back or neck problem. The main reason behind this is that sitting, in an office chair or in general, is a static posture that increases stress in the back, neck, shoulders, arms and legs, and in particular, can add large amounts of pressure to the back muscles and spinal discs.
When sitting in an office chair for a long period, the natural tendency for most people is to slouch over or slouch down in the chair, and this posture can overstretch the spinal ligaments and strain the discs and surrounding structures in the spine. Over time, incorrect sitting posture can damage spinal structures and contribute to or worsen back and neck pain.
Neck pain is due to the fact that most of us rely on computers for work. Various experts estimate that it afflicts between one- and two-thirds of all people who use computers. A study published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine interviewed 515 office workers in 2003 and found that one-third of the participants complained of neck pain during the previous year. Complaints were especially prevalent among desk-bound workers with ergonomically poor keyboard placement, high stress and low physical activity. And when the University of California-Berkeley studied 206 graduate students in 2004, it found that at least 60 percent suffered from upper-extremity or neck pain because of computer use.
No matter how comfortable one is in an office chair, prolonged static posture is not good for the back and is a common contributor to back problems and muscle strain. To avoid keeping the back in one position for a long period, remember to stand, stretch and walk for at least a minute or two every half hour. Even a quick stretch or some minimal movement – such as walking to the water cooler or bathroom – will help.
A 20 minutes walk will help even more; promoting healthy blood flow that brings important nutrients to all the spinal structures. In general, moving about and stretching on a regular basis throughout the day will help keep the joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons loose, which in turn promotes an overall feeling of comfort, relaxation and ability to focus productively. We have included a few stretching exercises that you can perform in your workplace to relieve the muscle tension.