Op-Ed: Lower back pain — Beware, beware the ‘ergonomic’ computer chair Special
I’ve written countless articles on ergonomics. I was therefore less than impressed when I gave myself an ergonomic injury, using computer chairs. Not one, but two, new chairs had resulted in sharp lower back pains and related issues.
Still less impressed did I become when I eventually realized that my posture would have done credit to a particularly untalented pretzel. I’m right handed. I stretch and put pressure to the right, and surprise, the right side felt like hell. I’d have to move around to get everything back in position, and it would hurt for a couple of hours afterwards. Not such a brilliant situation, because I work 7 days a week.
I’d previously had a fallen arch, which was murder to correct, so the natural reaction was to climb on to my little workout steps, and do some reps. That did help, and I thought I could control the problem, but of course next morning, I was more or less back to square one.
(The steps provide a lot of postural symmetry, and eventually corrected the fallen arch problems. The fact that while doing so it felt like six months with a deranged physiotherapist was a little disturbing, but not as much as the fallen arch.)
I was very worried, because I do know a few things about back injuries. There’s nothing good about any form of back pain. They're always real trouble, and should always receive prompt attention. Lower back pain is one of the most common of all adult medical complaints. These conditions are also very dangerous, because they can affect mobility at any time.
Fortunately for me, I have a bed which used to be a brick in a previous life, and is as hard as one, and it exposed the problem. Also fortunate was the fact that the Australian late Autumn chill highlighted the problem delightfully, as I spent an hour or so walking around repositioning bones, spines, etc.
A talk with a friend on Skype jogged the memory. My opinion of myself dropped quite a few more points when I remembered I’d had the problem before, and fixed it with a new chair. Then came realization- It was the same bloody problem, in the same place, but far worse, this time.
Connection- 30 years sitting in “ergonomic” chairs
. Ergonomic chairs
, if anything, are a bit too responsive to movements. They also tend to become out of whack themselves, with people sitting in them. I weigh about 170lb, and I was perching in these chairs for hours, slouching to the right, for several decades. I had, in effect, been working on dislocating my spine for 30 years.
I probably destroyed the balance of countless chairs, and this was their revenge. The pain, which would have done credit to any muscle strain I’ve ever had, and I’ve had dozens, was at the base of the spine, on the right, at hip height. My posture was essentially forcing the spine into an unnatural position, and it wasn’t happy.
I would say I missed a slipped disk
by the skin of my teeth. After the Skype call, I rushed out and bought a new office chair, with no wheels, no gas elevation, and a tube steel frame that moves forwards and backwards, but not sideways. It’s basically a “dining chair/rocking chair”, and I’ve discovered that simply sitting in it with my feet flat on the floor has progressively (and rapidly) corrected my back problems.
All I had to do was sit in this conspicuously ultra-non-ergonomic chair, which acted like traction, and the next morning, the pain was still there, but was at about 25% of its original, horrible strength. It’s since been reducing much more, but I’ve also noticed another phenomenon. The pain is infinitely less than the original agony, but it’s taken a long time to finally correct.
I think the new chair is dealing with the condition by correction over time, and the period of correction may relate to the original injuries caused by poorly balanced “ergonomic” chairs.
The result- Greatly improved general condition, no pain, and evidently no thanks to the ergonomic chair industry.
What to look out for:
Pains in the lower back preventing painless movement of one side of the body. These pains come on suddenly and are usually experienced on waking.
Pains other than this area, particularly arms and hands may also relate to computer usage. Consider your options, but the probability is that you have a computer usage related injury which may also be corrected by changing chair and perhaps desk as well.
What to do:
Check your chair. If it tilts to your stronger side or moves side to side like a boat, throw it out and get a new, wheel-less, solid chair.
When to call the doctor:
Whenever you feel like it, and preferably before you have to drag yourself into the waiting room with your nasal hairs and fingernails. These pains can be quite scary, and very sudden. The doctor can assist and advise, whatever the circumstances. I was within a couple of yelps of calling the doctor myself, but fortunately this did the trick.
What not to do:
Above all else- Don’t “work through the pain”
. Don't even think about it.
This type of back problem only gets worse if not corrected. You’ll be unable to work at all, perhaps permanently, if you don’t sort out the issues.