by Kathryn Woodall, DC
Desk jockeys are notorious for 3 things:
- low back pain
- wrist problems
- neck problems
Low back pain seems rather innocent. Just pop a few over-the-counter pain meds and you’re good to go, right?
Sure, you can knock the pain out, and maybe it’ll even stay gone for a while. But that’s kinda like removing the batteries from your smoke alarm so it stops that pesky beeping.
Years of sitting at a desk can lead to muscle stiffness, early joint degeneration, weak discs that herniate, and loss of function in your lower back. Indirectly, that lower back stuff can also lead to sore knees.
Those of you who’ve experienced intense lower back pain already know the impossibly long distance you have to bend to get your underwear from the floor to your waist. They just lie there in a smug little heap, mocking you, don’t they? You’ve also sat on the toilet and wondered exactly how you were going to be able to twist enough to use the paper. At times like that, you’d have sold your firstborn for a bidet. And speaking of children, you’ve probably also broken out in a cold sweat as some little kid that you love came hurtling at you with the intention of jumping into your arms. You said a silent prayer that you wouldn’t drop them or hurt them because of the pain, even as you shouted, “No! Stop!”
Some readers might have giggled at that last paragraph. But I bet it hit a little too close to home for others.
Even if the worst lower back discomfort you’ve ever experienced was feeling a bit stiff, why not do a few simple exercises a couple times a week to make sure your back stays healthy? Believe me, you’ll miss it when it’s “gone”…
If you’re already having back problems, and if your doctor says it’s okay for you to use the following exercises, you’ll benefit by doing them 1-3 times/day.
With all of these movements, never go to the point of pain. Mild discomfort is okay, but pain is bad and it means you should stop. You want the movement to be smooth and slow. Take your time with these. Quality is more important than cranking out reps.
At the office:
- Use good posture. Sit with your feet flat on the floor, with the bend of your knee at or slightly greater than 90 degrees. Your torso should sit tall in your chair, with your shoulders back and head over your butt rather than sliding forward so it’s over your lap.
- Chair lunges: scoot to the front of your chair, slide your right foot back until your knee is pointing at the floor, contract your right glute to open up your hip, and hold for 20-60 seconds. Repeat with the left leg.
- Set a reminder to go off at least once each hour. When the alarm goes off, get up and move. Go to the toilet, get a drink, bend side to side, bend forward and back… You get the idea. Just move!
- While sitting with good posture, lean to your right and then your left as far as you comfortably can. Hold each side for 20-60 seconds while breathing comfortably.
- While sitting with good posture, rotate to your right and then your left; hold each side for 20-60 seconds while breathing comfortably. **Do NOT hold your chair arms in an effort to twist, yank, or otherwise add force to this motion. You just want to go as far as you can on your own, and without pain.
At home (or at least in private):
- Practice swinging an imaginary hula hoop.
- Trace figure-8’s with your butt. This might cause you and anyone who sees you to giggle, but you’ll be impressed with how much it helps decrease low back stiffness.
- Perform this sequence: Kneeling Lunge—Plank—Opposite Side Kneeling Lunge—Side Plank—Opposite Side Plank— Superman. (see the video below) This little series of exercises will open your hips and improve your core strength.
This short video provides a demo of the “at home” movement sequence:
Don’t let lower back pain keep you out of the race. After all, part of the reason you put in so many hours as a desk jockey is to be able to get out there and enjoy playing too.
Watch out for my next post. I’ll be addressing wrist pain and that miserable burning repetitive strain that spreads up your forearms.
(As always, check with your doctor to make sure the advice in this article is relevant and safe for you.)
Kathryn Woodall ran a private health care practice for 15 years. She is the creator and co-author of the Million Dollar Exercise joint pain and mobility program.