Home & Office Back Pain Management: Improvements and Helpful Habits

Home and Office Modifications to Help Relieve Back Pain

Back pain is such a typical part of life, people may think it is almost normal. About four in five people will suffer from lower back pain at some point in their lives. Herniated discs, strained muscles, and bad posture are the typical causes. People are more likely to miss work as a result of a sore back and it is a major reason people claim a job-related disability. Back pain ranges from minor to very serious and can feel very differently from one person to the next. Since it is so common, many people fail to take it seriously until the pain becomes an obstacle they cannot overcome.

The home and office environment are notorious for making back pain hard to manage or prevent. Changing the sleeping, sitting, or working spaces to accommodate a better ergonomic environment may be the only way people can continue to function. This requires research and close attention to the places where people spend most of their time. By making changes to the room and developing healthy habits, people can stop back pain from turning into a problem they cannot handle. And don’t make the mistake that “new” means “ergonomic” — even new construction homes can be designed in a way that is not conducive to protecting your back.

Home Modifications for Back Pain

Since people spend most of their time at home, it makes sense to start by evaluating various rooms in the home for ways to manage or avoid back pain. Although homeowners may get better long-term effects from significant upgrades, this is not always necessary to make the space more comfortable and useful. For example, adjusting countertop height may make a big improvement. However, there are alternatives that cost less and take very little time to implement. For the most part, selecting the right kind of furniture provides the biggest benefit. People should consider each possible improvement or addition based on their personal needs. In many cases, there are multiple ways to solve the problem. The right one may take some experimentation, so homeowners may want to begin with the easiest and least-expensive. For those purchasing a condo, make sure to understand what upgrades and renovations are permitted before jumping into this project.

Bathroom

The bathroom can be a common place for people to injure their backs or make back pain worse. Frequency of use combined with a wet, slippery surface calls for homeowners to make more changes in this room than they might make in others. To start, people should evaluate the space and identify problems based on the kind of back pain they have. As an added benefit, many of these improvements are great for those who wish to age in place as they enter their golden years.

Installing a chair-height toilet makes it easier for people to sit down without bending their knees too much. This simplifies standing up without putting pressure on the lower back. When homeowners consider upgrading their bathrooms, they may want to opt for a standing shower, or a bathtub with a door. These upgrades cut down on the need to lift the leg high, which often aggravates back problems.

Adding a grab bar on either side of the toilet offers extra support. Grab bars are also an important item to put next to the shower or bathtub. They provide a firm surface people can grab to avoid slipping. Buying slip-proof rugs give people a place to stand as they climb out of the shower, without getting the floor wet.

Bedroom

The bedroom is an important place to analyze for possible causes of back pain, largely because people spend so much of their time in bed. In fact, an unsupportive mattress or pillow may serve as the primary trigger for back problems – even chronic ones. Homeowners should keep in mind the average mattress was only meant to be used for about eight years. Cheaper or low-quality mattresses may not last as long.

When considering a new mattress, people should think about the way they prefer to sleep. Back pain often requires people to change the way they sleep, as a way to manage the pain or to avoid making the problem worse. As a general rule, homeowners should try to purchase a firmer mattress to give extra support. Even the stiffest mattress will soften eventually, so a mattress feeling a little hard in the beginning will soften into a supportive structure over time. One feeling very soft at the beginning could become unsupportive within a year or two. There’s a useful puffy mattress review here.

The right kind of pillow depends on sleeping position. Back pain experts recommend side sleeping because it allows the body to keep the spine in its natural alignment. People should choose a pillow thick enough to support the head and neck. They may also want to use a pillow between their knees to avoid putting pressure on the hips. Back sleepers should consider adding a pillow under their knees to avoid hyper-extending their backs. A thin pillow or rolled towel under the lower back can support the natural curve of the spine. Experts usually suggest stomach sleepers to try changing their habits. This position contorts the spine in ways that can make back pain worse.

Living Room

In the living room, homeowners may want to select furniture at the right height with an appropriate level of support. People may spend hours a day in the living room, so it is important for chairs and sofas to avoid contributing to back pain. When people are considering new furniture, they should aim to test out each piece for at least a few minutes. This gives them the opportunity to confirm the seating will meet their needs. Homeowners should look for furniture that:

  • allows them to put their feet flat on the floor
  • keeps the legs at a 90-degree angle
  • sets the knee at the edge, with the back comfortably resting against the cushion
  • provides a firm support surface, unlikely to flatten over time

Since people in the home may have variable heights, it is important to choose pieces of furniture to work for most residents. For example, homeowners might select a chair appropriate for a tall person, but choose a couch to suit people of average height. Adding lumbar cushions or an ottoman can make it easy for people with back pain to adjust their surroundings to work better. This way, everyone can have a comfortable place to sit.

Kitchen

The kitchen can also be a source of back pain, by virtue of the tasks people do in the space. Homeowners should take a look at the kitchen and see how individual tasks lead to back pain, so they can try to minimize them. Many cooking and cleaning-related jobs can be made easier with the right design, but good habits also make a significant difference.

Bending and stretching are two of the most common problems in the kitchen. People who have to bend over a shorter counter for an extended period of time put pressure on their hips, lower back, and shoulders. Adjusting the countertop to a height suited for the tallest person in the home may be the most effective way to eliminate this problem. Installing countertops of varying heights may also be a practical compromise.

The addition of a few simple devices can help people manage chronic back pain. For example, putting a soft mat under the sink or stove can make working on a tile or hardwood floor more comfortable. Homeowners may also want to consider purchasing a supportive step-stool. Placing one foot on the stool while cooking or cleaning helps keep the back in proper alignment.

Storage and Organization Considerations

Home organization may not seem like a common cause of back pain, but people may use it more than they think. Having to hyper-extend the back trying to reach something in the kitchen daily can make it much harder for people to manage long-term back problems. In many cases, storage options in the home are not designed specifically to work with the people who live there at present. As such, homeowners can minimize issues by tailoring organization to work with the way they use the space.

As a general rule, people should aim to put the items they need most frequently at torso level. This means they can get to it without having to reach up or bend down. Homeowners with young children may want to put things their kids need on lower shelves or drawers. This way, their children can help them by getting their own clothing, dishes, and other items. Otherwise, people might prefer to place belongings they use sometimes but not frequently in lower cabinets. Using good lifting practices is an important way to use these spaces without making back pain worse.

Having to reach too high can trigger pain or spasms in the upper back and shoulders. People should reserve storage in these spaces for things they only need on occasion. For example, lightweight, seasonal gear or tools are ideal to put at the top of the closet or on a high shelf in the kitchen. Using a step-stool to reach things located high in a closet or cabinet can be an effective way to avoid hyper-extending the back. However, people should select an easy-to-move stool, unlikely to slip on the surface, and supportive of the full body weight of an adult. If items are getting in the way of having a good storage system, consider donating or selling things you don’t need or use regularly (or find a good self storage unit).

Helpful Habits at Home

Adding a number of home upgrades and pillows or other devices designed to help with back pain is just the beginning of what people can do to help themselves. For many people, the origin and continuation of back problems relates to personal habits that slow the healing process or cause new injury. When someone is used to doing something a particular way, they may not think to stop doing it even if it hurts. Fortunately, problematic habits are often easy to correct.

People with back pain should talk to their doctors about the best activities they can do at home to assist in managing the condition. This may require doing certain types of exercises or avoiding certain tasks in the home. If you purchased a golf course home because of your love for the game, you may want to re-evaluate your swing or how often you play. It can take a few weeks to form a healthy habit, so people should persist with their plans until they feel like a natural part of the daily routine. These efforts can aid in healing or avoid aggravating long-term back problems.

Exercise and Stretching at Home

Although stretching painful muscles and joints may seem counterintuitive, it is often vital to preserving mobility for the limbs and back. There are a variety of exercises and stretches people can do as a way to help relieve back pain or prevent it. Generally, people should aim to get 20-30 minutes of low-impact exercise a few days a week to remain in good health. Stretches specifically tailored to the back can be a useful part of this time spent.

When people engage in exercises intended to strengthen and tone back muscles, they should pay close attention to extension and flexion. Extension describes the lengthening of the spine, while flexion relates to curving or bending. It is important to avoid hyper-extending or flexing the back too much, as this can lead to muscle strain and possible injury. A healthy stretching exercise done correctly may create a feeling of tension, but should not cause sharp or stabbing pains.

Many exercises for the back are designed to be done while lying down. This helps avoid hyper-extension or trips and falls. People who suffer from pain in the lower back or hips may want to try:

  • bringing one knee toward the chest at a time and holding for several seconds
  • crossing one ankle over the opposite knee and gently pulling the knee to the chest
  • placing feet flat on the floor and slowly rotating the hips up and down
  • holding knees together and rotating the lower half of the body from side to side
  • using a foam roller to massage the upper back
  • using percussive therapy to help relax your lower back

Since many of these exercises require using hands to hold knees in place, people should be careful to avoid exerting too much force. Twisting the neck and shoulders can strain muscles or cause other injuries.

Minimize Heavy Lifting

Many back injuries come as a result of people lifting something too heavy to carry, or lifting it the wrong way. People should aim to avoid lifting items weighing more than 20-25 pounds, or less depending on their physical condition. Instead, they can use carts, dollies, or other means to move appliances or heavy equipment. If homeowners do have to lift something on the heavier side, they should employ proper lifting techniques. These include:

  • evaluating the size and weight of the object before moving it
  • stretching muscles in advance to avoid straining
  • setting the feet shoulder-width apart
  • bending at the knees, keeping the upper body above the feet
  • picking up the item from the bottom
  • setting the item down using the same movements

Lifting items correctly is not a guarantee people will not encounter injury. Homeowners with back pain or other back problems may want to hire professionals to move heavy furniture or appliances. The investment may be a necessity to avoid re-injuring recently healed muscles and joints.

Limit Bed Rest

People who are currently dealing with back pain may think relaxing in bed most of the time is a good way to heal, but this is not always the case. Spending hours a week in bed is not necessarily the healthiest or safest way to pass time at home. Homeowners who have an old or unsupportive mattress may make back problems worse simply by spending more time on it.

If people try to do activities like eating or watching television in bed, they may twist or strain their muscles. Instead, people should attempt to make the rest of their homes more comfortable for sitting during the day. Minor adjustments to the layout of the living room and dining room, with furniture upgrades as needed, may decrease the need for people to lay down in order to avoid pain.

Office and Workspace Modifications for Back Pain

People thought shifting the primary means of work from a factory to an office would be easier on the body. However, decades of experience has shown the office environment can be as hard on a person’s back as fields requiring a lot of physical labor. Years of repetitive stress from sitting in an uncomfortable position can cause a lot of damage.

People may spend as much time in the office (or their home office) as they do sleeping in bed, and in some cases more than that. This underscores the need to have a supportive work environment with a chair ideally set up for a person’s back. A few modifications to the chair and desk may make a significant difference in a person’s ability to function while they are at work.

Computer Chairs

Most computer chairs have the potential to be comfortable, but they can also cause back pain if they have an improper fit or are not used correctly. People should evaluate the best way to sit in the chair in relation to the desk. They need to learn how to adjust the base, back rest, and armrests of the chair. They should develop a habit of confirming the chair is ideally arranged for their use each time.

As a general rule, people who spend several hours working from a single environment should evaluate several different aspects of the chair. To avoid causing back pain or making it worse, they should make sure of the following:

  • elbows sit at a 90-degree angle
  • legs sit comfortably at a 90-degree angle
  • calves rest near but not tightly against the chair legs
  • lower back sits fully against the chair back
  • computer screen is positioned at eye level
  • armrests sit slightly above the elbow

In some cases, people may need to change something else about the office environment to be comfortable. For example, some people might need a foot rest to keep their legs at a comfortable angle. Workers who are much taller or shorter than average may need to raise or lower the desk height to accommodate their needs.

The condition of the chair can often affect how comfortable it is to sit in for longer periods of time. Older chairs or overused office furniture may not be as easy to adjust. They may also lose the ability to tailor the seat to the user. As such, people may want to consider replacing an office chair that is more than a few years old, or one that has been used extensively by several people.

Ergonomic Chair Alternatives

Although the average office chair can be adjusted to provide adequate support for people, there are plenty of reasons to consider an ergonomic alternative. Many options on the market are designed to take pressure off the spine or provide ideal support for the legs. They may look significantly different from the average office chair, so people should research the different types and try out each one before they make a purchase. What works for one person may not be adequate for another, especially for people with different types of back pain. People should also keep in mind no chair was meant to provide perfect comfort with hours of use. As such, people should still plan to take breaks and get up from their working environment, even if they have an ergonomic chair.

Ergonomic chairs come in a variety of styles and designs. One of the oldest and best-known is the kneeling chair. With this kind of chair, the user sits on a slanted platform and rests their knees against a perpendicular slanted platform. This chair has no back, but its design encourages the user to keep the back in a natural alignment. This type of chair must be sized correctly in order to provide a comfortable seat. Someone whose legs are too long or too short will struggle to stay in it for very long.

Similarly, a saddle chair provides a backless seating arrangement with ideal support for the lower back. This type of chair sits higher off the ground than the average seat, so people’s legs will rest somewhere between sitting and standing. People who have circulation problems in the legs may prefer this type of seat because it promotes better blood-flow. Exercise balls provide a modern alternative. These inflatable balls are large enough for an adult to sit comfortably, and can support an adult’s weight. People are discovering exercise balls allow them to perform continuous movements while sitting, which can improve circulation and decrease tension in the back and legs.

People who have significant or degenerative back problems may want to consider using a reclining chair in the office. This type of chair works much like a recliner for the home, and may actually be the same furniture. This chair supports the upper and lower back, but also raises the feet and legs. This approach can help people work for longer periods, provided the chair can be adjusted to allow them to see the screen.

Lumbar Support Cushions

People who must use an office chair that does not work particularly well for their needs may want to consider adding a lumbar support cushion to their work environment. These cushions also come in a variety of shapes and sizes. People should confirm they have purchased the right size and they know how to use it properly. Each cushion should position the lower back, and not be tall enough to reach the neck. Lumbar cushions forcing the spine too far forward can strain muscles or cause injury. Products too tall may force shorter people or those with a shorter torso to hunch forward.

Generally, these cushions are meant to be attached to the back of a chair to make an unsupportive surface into a better fit for a person’s back. This means the chair itself must have a back rest. Other cushions are meant to be placed on the seat of the chair. These work by positioning the legs, hips, and lower back into a more natural position. People may need to adjust the chair downward slightly for these types of pillows, so their legs remain in a comfortable position.

Sit-Stand Work Stations

Many offices are shifting to work environments with the option for employees to sit or stand as they work. This ideal arrangement could offer a combination people can adjust quickly so they can sit for a period and stand at other times. When used with an ergonomic chair, people may be able to better manage their back pain without compromising productivity.

Standing workstations can be very helpful in managing back pain, provided they are used correctly. Typically, people should confirm the standing desk allows them to stand completely upright without having to bend over. The desk should provide enough space for a computer with a monitor or laptop, keyboard, and room for the elbows to sit comfortably. People may need to try a standing desk at a varying height to make sure they have it placed correctly. Easily adjustable desks can accommodate more than one person using the desk throughout the day. People should factor in adjustability to their decision in the type of desk. If the desk is difficult to adjust without triggering back pain, or if somebody has to wait for another person to do it for them, it may not be as useful.

Standing desks may not be a practical choice for people with circulation problems or other concerns with their feet. Experts suggest using a standing desk for limited periods of time, broken up with periods of walking or sitting. People who intend to use standing desks on a regular basis should evaluate their choice of footwear. Shoes with a tall or narrow heel may force the spine into an unnatural position, which can cause pain over a period of hours.

Helpful Habits in the Workplace

One of the biggest problems with back pain caused by a bad work environment is it tends to accumulate slowly. This means people may not notice they are causing back pain or injury from bad posture until it becomes quite pronounced. Most people expect to have a little discomfort after a long day at the office, and this can lead them to ignore signs of back problems on the horizon. It does not take a lot of work for people to identify what they may be doing wrong and form a plan to correct it. Understanding what it means to have a good posture makes it easier for people to develop a habit. Once they have this information, they can put it into practice in a way to ensure they will continue to have better muscle and joint health over time.

Practice Good Posture

Most people are familiar with the concept of good posture, but they may not actually know what it means. Good posture pays attention to both extension and flexion, avoiding going too far in any direction. The most common problem people have in an office environment is a slouched posture. This describes a position where people are relying too much on the seat of the chair and hunching forward to reach the keyboard or see the screen.

Instead, people should aim to keep their backs relatively straight but not unnecessarily stiff. There is a natural curve forward at the lower end of the spine people should balance by trying to avoid leaning forward or pushing back. Shoulders should be kept low and relaxed, with arms resting straight downward. Employees may need to practice good posture until they find the right position. Sometimes, people try too hard to keep a straight back and end up hyper-extending the spine or straining muscles. Good posture takes time and commitment. People may want to work on standing or sitting in a good position at home so they do not fall into a bad position when they are distracted by job tasks.

Practice Stretches at Your Desk

Most people would not think of engaging in a long exercise without stopping to take breaks or to stretch. This is just as important in the workplace as it would be on a 10-mile hike. Workers may not be particularly excited about getting on the floor to do exercises while they are at the office, but there are a variety of stretches they can do while standing or sitting. When people take breaks every couple of hours, they may want to dedicate a minute or two to stretching as a way to avoid accumulating back pain throughout the day.

An easy way to take pressure off the upper back, shoulders, and neck is through gentle stretching. People should imagine their necks are long and straight, and allow their shoulders to relax completely. For the lower back and hips, people can alternate placing a foot on a chair and leaning forward slightly to stretch the hamstrings, gluteal muscles, and lower back. Exercises done while sitting or standing require care so people do not accidentally stretch too far. They should always confirm with a doctor these exercises are safe for their use depending on their physical condition.

Take Short Breaks

In a culture rewarding people who spend more time in the office and pushing through their days instead of taking breaks, it can be difficult for people to make downtime a priority. However, spending too much time in an uncomfortable chair often leads to injury as a result of bad posture. People who do not allow themselves to take periodic breaks may burn out more quickly and be less productive than those who give themselves time to get up and move. Workers can decide what type of break works best for them, but they should make sure to actually take them. One person might prefer to get up and move around for five minutes every hour—especially if their commercial building is in a very walkable area. Others may not have that kind of flexibility, but find taking 15 minutes every two hours allows them to rest and refresh.

Headsets Over Handheld Phones

The mainstream use of smartphones has led many offices to get rid of landlines entirely. Although this can make communication easier for many people, smartphones were not particularly designed to provide ideal neck and back support for people who use them. Employees who have no choice but to hold the phone with a hand may want to switch from side to side throughout a conversation to avoid putting too much stress on one arm or shoulder.

People who work in jobs where they make frequent or long phone calls (people who get their real estate license, for instance) or must complete other tasks during the conversation should consider investing in a headset. Headsets come in various designs, and can be adjusted to fit a specific person. Bluetooth models connect to mobile devices without requiring a cable. Although some products can be very inexpensive, employees in these types of jobs should aim for models with volume controls and a microphone they do not have to hold while they are speaking. The extra investment may help ensure they are more likely to use it consistently.

Wear Proper Footwear

People who use a standing desk may not be surprised the footwear they use in the office can significantly affect how they feel at the end of the day. Those who spend most of their time sitting should know their shoes can still make a difference in their comfort as they work. Someone who usually wears high heels at work may want to consider a different type of shoe if they must stand for long periods of time. Generally, shoes should fit well and allow relatively free movement of the toes.

Those who suffer from foot dysfunction often develop back pain as a result. Some people put too much weight on the inside of the foot, leading to hyper-pronation. This condition can often be corrected by the use of orthotic shoes or arch supports. The right kind of shoe can support the foot and ankle in a way to takes stress off the calf muscles, hips, and lower back. People should avoid wearing shoes broken in by somebody else, and periodically replace old shoes that are no longer supportive.

Ditch Heavy Backpacks, Purses, and Briefcases

People sometimes think the rules for lifting heavy items only applies to pieces of furniture or appliances. They should think about the bags they carry to and from work as well. A bag weighing 20 pounds and hanging over one shoulder puts an unnecessary amount of pressure on that side of the body, as well as the back. The increasing accessibility and portability of information in an electronic format makes it easier for people to bring work home without having to physically carry documents. However, professionals in fields like teaching may still need to carry a significant weight each day.

Selecting the right luggage for the task can make it easier for people to do this without injuring themselves. People should start by attempting to minimize the amount of items they have to move on a daily basis. Many professionals may only need a wallet or clutch instead of a larger bag or briefcase. If they must, they should select a bag with a wide shoulder strap fitting across the body instead of hanging off one shoulder. People who need to transport bulky or heavy paperwork may want to invest in a rolling briefcase or portable file cabinet. They should choose a model with sturdy wheels, which are unlikely to break when rolling up or down stairs.

Taking a Proactive Approach

Although back pain is something almost everyone will have to deal with at some point, it does not need to become chronic. Too many people expect they will encounter back pain as a result of their sleeping or working environment. This leads them to avoid fixing problems, which might be simple or require a small change in habits. Taking back pain seriously requires identifying possible causes and trying out solutions. In some cases, all people need to do is give themselves periodic breaks and perform periodic stretches to keep back pain at bay. A commitment to good posture usually helps, although it may not solve existing back problems.

For occasional or regular back pain, people can make changes to the spaces causing the problem. Using an ergonomic chair at work can provide excellent support and can decrease tension. Replacing an uncomfortable mattress with a firm, supportive one can ensure better sleep and less stress on the legs, hips, and lower back. Above all, being willing to tailor the space based on individual needs is key. When people design their rooms with minimizing back pain in mind, they are more likely to get this benefit when they use it.

Need to sell your home?

Find out how much it will sell for today!

Check your equity now in 60 seconds
Kris Lindahl Real Estate

Home of the one day listing contract

Leave a comment

Agency Relationships In Real Estate Transactions

Continue Reading

Waterfront House Plans For Best Views: Luxury Lake House Design

Waterfront homes have traditionally enjoyed popularity among discerning homeowners. Whether a home is at the seashore, has lake frontage, or is situated close to a fishing stream, the proximity of water can be a formula for “the good life.” Homes with water views can also represent a unique financial investment. Waterfront homes traditionally appreciate faster […]

Continue Reading

Luxury Patio Ideas For Waterfront Homes: Outdoor Opulence

Whether they’re designed for vacation getaways or full-time living, waterfront homes have one attribute that most homes cannot duplicate: the undeniable appeal of water views and access to the waterfront lifestyle. This calls for creating an outdoor “oasis” that visually expands living space and adds a new dimension of enjoyment. Looking to elevate your lakefront […]

Continue Reading
KL

Click to request a no-obligation Guaranteed Offer on your home right now.