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How to tackle back pain when you’re sitting at a desk all day

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Susan Devaney
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Fitness expert and personal trainer Roger Frampton shares his five simple methods for combatting desk-based back pain. 

If you’ve ever suffered from back pain, you’ll know how uncomfortable, frustrating and downright distressing it can be. But with office workers spending the majority of their days sat at their desks, is it any wonder we seem to be complaining of a lot of aches and pains?

In fact, NHS England reports that back pain is the largest single cause of disability in the UK, with referrals for spinal surgery are on the rise every year. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not just a problem that affects middle-aged and elderly people: figures released by the UK Statistics Authority show that adults aged 25-34 take almost two million sick days a year due to back pain.

And it seems like sitting down for most of our days could be at the root of the problem. 

“Our lives have become very sedentary with many of us sitting all day at work and then going home to slump in front of the TV. Sitting increases the load on the discs in our spines far more than standing, and the longer we sit the worse our posture becomes,”  Jatinder Benepal, director of overseas affairs for The Royal College of Chiropractors, tells stylist.co.uk

“Poor posture and the long slow stretching of ligaments whilst sitting leave us vulnerable to the sprains and strains that can result in chronic back and neck pain.”

Catherine Quinn, a chiropractor and British Chiropractic Association (BCA) council member, says that her clinic has seen a rise in the number of people experiencing back- and neck-related problems. 

“Our modern lifestyles mean many of us stay seated all day,” she explains. “Office workers tend to spend the majority of their days sitting in the same position at their desks for hours on end, which can lead to discomfort in their back. In fact, recent research from the BCA found that 35% of British people have experienced back pain when using a desktop or laptop computer.”

At this year’s Stylist Live, fitness expert and personal trainer Roger Frampton will be sharing his advice on how to re-programme our posture and rid ourselves of back pain, at the talk ’Why We Should All Move Like Children’. 

You can book your tickets and check out the rest of the line-up for Stylist Live here. But in the meantime, here are a few tips from Frampton to help you stop the slouch and shake off desk-based back pain.  

1. Take advantage of dead time

Even if you can’t walk home from work, you can use travel time as an excuse to stand. Don’t make a beeline for that seat on the bus or train; let someone else get there first and stay on your feet.

Later in the evening, swap the sofa for the living room floor and change sitting positions as you watch TV to improve your flexibility. According to Frampton, doing so can help “reverse the damage caused by repeated sitting”. 

Frampton explains how to stand properly, and improve our posture.

2. Take time to squat

“Our natural resting position is a squat and if we look at the angle of most chairs in the western world our hips don’t sink below our knees, so we’ve got to get some squat time in,” explains Frampton.

This means it’s important to mix things up and spend some time each day “getting some real resting human position time in and take some tension off of that spine”. 

All you have to do is crouch, and lower your body to the ground - but with great balance. 

It’s simple, as explained in the video below:

Frampton explains how to squat with success.

3. Work your hips

When we sit down our muscles pull on and rotate the pelvis, which can lead to undue tension on the spine, Frampton explains. 

To release this tension, he recommends a simple exercise. 

“Firstly, kneel against a wall by facing away from it. Put one shin up against the wall behind you and place your front leg in a lunge position, and make sure to sit up tall. 

“Then make sure to keep the knee of your back leg firmly against the wall. And repeat.”

Follow Frampton’s example in the video below:

Copy this pose, as shown by Frampton.

4. Release your ribcage

One of the most common symptoms for those experiencing back ache is pain at the lower part of the spine.

“If you picture the anatomy of the spine for a second you can see how the upper spine has support from the rib cage,” explains Frampton.

“The lower back does not have this support so essentially if you lack movement in your rib cage you’re unintentionally putting pressure on your lower back. When we sit down it’s highly likely our rib cage is closed.”

The solution? Releasing some pressure on our lower backs by moving our upper back and rib cage.

“One of the ways you can do this is to lie down on the floor facing the ceiling and wedge some pillows under your upper back to open your rib cage,” says Frampton.

“Then open your arms out to the side so your rib cage is fully open, and breathe.”

Frampton explains why sitting down all day is so detrimental to our health.

5. It’s important to understand pain

“Pain is great,” explains Frampton. “If you didn’t experience pain you wouldn’t have a call to action. Your body would allow you to break in two.”

Basically, pain is just a signal from your spine. Your body is smart enough to know when something is not right, which is why it’s essential you listen to it. 

If you’re experiencing a lot of constant back pain then contact your local NHS GP and ask to be referred to a physiotherapist for treatment.

Stylist Live brings everything you love about Stylist magazine to life across three days of experts, interviews, comedy, food, beauty and fashion exclusives. 10-12 November, Olympia London. Find out more at live.stylist.co.uk

Images: iStock / Instagram

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Susan Devaney

Susan Devaney is a digital journalist for Stylist.co.uk, writing about fashion, beauty, travel, feminism, and everything else in-between.

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