Yoga Chairs and Orthopedic Solutions against Back Pain
Today’s world is becoming increasingly unhealthy. Various factors such as incorrect sitting postures, multi-tasking, long working hours at the computer, talking on the phone while typing, irregular eating habits, rigorous travelling, night work and odd working hours promote health hazards.
Our lifestyles have contributed immeasurably towards diseases such as obesity, diabetes, respiratory problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart diseases, backache, cervical cancer, depression, osteoporosis, thyroid problems etc. Musculoskeletal disorders, often chronic, are only one group of very common ailments associated with the unnatural lifestyle, which most people are leading today.
Dealing with lifestyle diseases reduces the overall enjoyment of life as well as productivity at work, which is why increasingly employers, governments and doctors promote lifestyle modifications.
Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs, also referred to as Repetitive Stress Injuries/ Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs), Repetitive Motion Injuries (RMIs), Cumulative Trauma Disorders (CTDs), Cumulative Trauma Injuries (CTIs) or ergonomic injuries) describe a variety of conditions affecting the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage and spinal discs; causing discomfort and pain, which can interfere with everyday activities such as walking and even sitting. They can affect all major areas of the body, including the neck, shoulders, wrists and back. Since MSDs mostly result from unnatural movement or repetitive and forceful motions, awkward postures and other work-related conditions and ergonomic hazards, they have been increasingly prevalent at work for the past decades.
MSDs and back pain are the leading cause of occupational disability in the world and the most common causes of sickness absence from work having affected over 1 million people per year since in 2005 and the number is rising. Up to 2% of the UK’s gross domestic product is accounted for by the direct costs of such disorders every year, with a total cost due to sickness absence across Europe of £219 billion and an estimated total cost of MSDs to UK society of over £7 billion a year.
MSDs account for 49.9% of all absences from work lasting three days or longer and for 60% of permanent work incapacity.
With the population ageing and our lives becoming more sedentary, this situation is unlikely to change. As office work, physical labour and repetitive physical routines, whether in the occupational or social/private realm, are not likely to become a thing of the past, ways have to be found to change people’s lifestyles in order to ensure their health.
Preventive and non-allopathic treatment against MSD-related back pains
Preventive and non-allopathic treatment against MSD-related back pains has been prevalent for a long time. Increasingly, researchers recommend work-focused healthcare with particular stress on exercise and accommodating workplaces.
In light of the current research, policymakers, health care professionals, commissioners, employers, and individuals focus jointly on how to remedy the situation in the work force and beyond.
Such initiatives are often preventive and can include health and safety programs focusing on changing the way work products can be transported, changing workstation layout by adjusting the work environment, changing work practices and management policies, such as work rotation or the reduction of working hours, and lastly health programs to prevent MSDs.
Orthopedic Solutions to Back Pain
Orthopedic solutions have been recommended since the 1980s. There are shock-absorbing heel inserts against back pain and viscoelastic insoles for the reduction of shock loads.
Lumbar support in the form of belts or cushions is also an effective part of non-allopathic treatment.
Studies as far back as 2003 have stressed the importance of the right kind of mattress to sleep on in order to remedy chronic back pains. This has to be a firm one no matter the type of pain or cause for it.
Therapy, especially once the ailment has become chronic, suggests long-term treatment, which may also include nerve blocks, behavioural interventions and, less frequently, placement of implantable devices to alter the pain experience.
But even in chronic cases, the use of the above mentioned treatment possibilities as well as doing regular exercise and posture corrections is recommended.
Not lastly because chronic pains are often deemed incurable, preventive treatment is becoming increasingly widespread; this includes regular strengthening and stretching exercises as well as appropriate biopsychosocial education.
Acupuncture is also widely practised as adjunct treatment for MSDs and lower back pain, amongst many other ailments.
So can a yoga chair help?
First off, you do not need to buy a new chair for this. There are many ways in which your current chair can be utilised for regular yoga breaks at work and in which it can be adjusted to get the best out of your posture. If you feel that your chair isn’t good enough, but you don’t have the option to exchange yours for a yoga chair, don’t panic. Contrary to popular belief the chair is less important than your posture is. Don’t lean against your chair’s backrest, if you have a chair which isn’t suited to you; and make sure that your chair isn’t too high or low for you. Are your feet firmly on the ground when you sit? And of course, sitting straight is key.
The are various effective aids to help your posture: wedge pillows will relieve the pressure on your spine and are especially beneficial for acute lower back and leg ailments. The pillow tilts your pelvis to the optimal degree in order to bring your spine into its natural position. They are not just ideal for an office environment, but also a great support during long car journeys.
Dynamic sitting heavily encouraged!
I addition to wedge pillows, there are mobile cushions, which correct your posture by promoting dynamic sitting. These are our personal recommendation, if you’re not only looking to correct your posture, but also to strengthen your body. Here is why: through the mobile cushion’s air-filled, concave shape, you are forced to sit not just in your natural, upright position, but also to engage your pelvic floor, core and spine, thereby strengthening the back, legs and foot muscles. The cushion also dampens the load on the discs and maintains overall balance.
The over 100-year-old German brand Russka provides such cushions (www.russka.de/index.php?id=44&pg=0&artikel=148) and they are much handier to carry around with you than a yoga chair will be. So if you travel a lot for work, or if you don’t have your own office chair at work, a mobile cushion (the size of a frisbee) or (the slightly lighter) wedge pillow are a great way for you to ensure constant support for your spine.
It’s the Posture, Stupid
The most important thing to remember is that even without pillow aids or a specially designed yoga chair, there are very simple ways in which you can ensure a correct sitting posture at your desk:
Sit upright on the edge of your chair with both your feet firmly on the ground and hip-distance apart.
Ensure that your head is straight, i.e. not tilted to the side or too much towards your chin or towards the ceiling.
Whenever you are not typing and do not need your hands, keep your arms by the side of your chair, palms facing forward, and slightly squeeze your shoulder blades.
When you are typing, ensure you don’t rest the heels of your hands on the keyboard. Instead, hover over the keyboard to ensure adequate weight distribution. Your hands and forearms will thank you for it.
Whether you want to prevent or cure MSDs, a combination of different yoga exercises as well as the right posture (both seated and standing) which you constantly adjust are essential. So is taking short breaks away from your desk. Yoga chairs and orthopaedic cushions can serve as an aid, but the most important thing is to be aware of how to sit properly in order to take pressure away from your spine and strengthen your muscles. Enough sleep and drinking enough water is crucial for your body to function properly, too.
For managing existing ailments, provided they are not at a very severe and/or chronic stage already, all of this should help you lead a more comfortable and healthy lifestyle.
Bibliography and further reading
Annalee Yassi FRCPC, Repetitive strain injuries, in: The Lancet, Volume 349, Issue 9056, 29 March 1997, pp. 943 – 947.
Stephen Bevan, Eleanor Passmore, Michelle Mahdon, Fit For Work? Musculoskeletal Disorders and Labour Market Participation, London, September 2007, http://www.theworkfoundation.com/DownloadPublication/Report/44_44_fit_for_work_small.pdf
S. Bevan, T. Quadrello, R. McGee, M. Mahdon, A. Vavrovsky et al., Fit for Work? Musculoskeletal disorders in the European workforce, London 2009, The Work Foundation.
Kim A. Burton, Nicholas A.S. Kendall, ABC of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 3rd Edition Musculoskeletal Disorders, in: BMJ 2014, 348 (g1076).
T.H. Tveito, M. Hysing, H.R. Eriksen, Low back pain interventions at the workplace. A systematic literature review. Occup Med. 2004, 54, pp. 3-13.
S.J. Linton, M.W. van Tulder, Preventive interventions for back and neck pain problems. What is the evidence?, in: Spine 2001, 26, pp.778-787. A. Lahad, A. Malter, A.O. Berg, R. Deyo, The effectiveness of four interventions for the prevention of low back pain, in. JAMA 1994, 272, pp. 1286-1291. US Preventive Services Task Force. Primary Care Interventions to Prevent Low Back Pain in Adults: Recommendation Statement. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2004. (www.ahrq.gov/clinic/3rduspstf/lowback/lowbackrs.htm). G. Young, D. Jewell, Interventions for Preventing and Treating Pelvic and Back Pain in Pregnancy, Cochrane Review, Issue 4, Chichester 2003. M.N. van Poppel, B.W. Koes, T. Smid, L.M. Bouter, A systematic review of controlled clinical trials on the prevention of back pain in industry. Occup Environ Med 1997, 54, pp. 841-847. C. Brisson, S. Montreuil, L. Punnett, Effects of ergonomics training program on workers with video display units, in: Scand J Work Environ Health 1999, 25, pp. 255-263. W.S. Marras, W.G. Allread, D.L. Burr, F.A. Fathallah. Prospective validation of a low-back disorder risk model and assessment of ergonomic interventions associated with manual materials handling tasks, in: Ergonomics 2000, 43, pp. 1866-1886. S. Koda, S. Nakagiri, N. Yasuda, H. Ohara, A follow-up study of preventive effects on low back pain at worksites by providing a participatory occupational safety and health program, in: Ind Health 1997, 35, pp. 243-248. E.L. Wergeland, B. Veiersted, M. Ingre et al. A shorter workday as a means of reducing the occurrence of musculoskeletal disorders, in: Scand J Work Environ Health 2003, 29, pp. 27-34.
P. Fauno, S. Kalund, I. Andreasen, U. Jorgensen, Soreness in lower extremities and back is reduced by use of shock absorbing heel inserts, in: Int J Sports Med. 1993, 14, pp. 288-290. R.E. Tooms, J.W. Griffin, S. Green, K. Cagle, Effect of viscoelastic insoles on pain. Orthopedics, 1987, 10, pp. 1143-1147. A. Mündermann, D.J. Stefanyshyn, B.M. Nigg, Relationship between footwear comfort of shoe inserts and anthropometric and sensory factors, in: Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001, 33, pp. 1939-1945. K Larsen, F. Weidich, C. Leboeuf-Yde, Can custom-made biomechanic shoe orthoses prevent problems in the back and lower extremities? A randomized, controlled intervention trial of 146 military conscripts, in: J Manipulative Physiol Ther, 2002, 25, pp. 326-331.
P. Jellema, M.W. van Tulder, M.N.M. van Poppel et al., Lumbar supports for prevention and treatment of low back pain, in: Spine 2001, 26, pp. 377-386.
F.M. Kovacs, V. Abraira, A. Pena et al., Effect of firmness of mattress on chronic non-specific low-back pain: randomised, double-blind, controlled, multicentre trial, in: Lancet. 2003, 362, pp.1599-1604.
Prof. Michael A Ashburn MD, Prof. Peter S Staats MD, Management of chronic pain, in: The Lancet, Volume 353, Issue 9167, 29 May 1999, pp. 1865 – 1869. See also: L. Hestbaek, C. Leboeuf-Yde, C. Manniche, Low back pain: what is the long-term course? A review of studies of general patient populations, in: Eur Spine J. 2003, 12, pp. 149-165.
J. Kool, R. de Bie, P. Oesch et al., Exercise reduces sick leave in patients with non-acute non-specific low back pain. A meta-analysis, in: J Rehabil Med., 2004, 36, pp. 49-62. F.J. Mendez, A. Gomez-Conesa, Postural hygiene program to prevent low back pain, in: Spine 2001, 26, pp.1280-1286.
Corrigendum to “How to prevent low back pain” [Best Practice & Research Clinical Rheumatology 19 (2005) 541-555] A. Kim Burton, PhD DO Eur Erg, (On behalf of the COST B13 Working Group on European Guidelines for Prevention in Low Back Pain) Best Practice & Research Clinical Rheumatology December 2005 (Vol. 19, Issue 6,Page 1095)
NIN Consensus Development Panel on Acupuncture, Acupuncture, in: JAMA 1998, 280 (17), 1518-1524.