Human bodies were designed to live life on the go — hunting, gathering, traveling from season to season — and there was little opportunity for sitting around. In fact, the spine is neutral in an erect position.
Today, our lives are far more sedentary, and most of us spend at least eight hours a day in a seated position, whether we’re at a desk or watching our favorite TV show. Even when we’re standing, many of us are looking down at smartphones.
Given this lack of movement and poor posture, it’s little wonder that spine and nerve problems crop up as often as they do, especially among desk-bound office workers. In fact, up to 50% of office workers who sit a good deal report lower back pain. Not to mention, tech neck and nerve entrapment problems (think carpal tunnel syndrome) are also rampant in office environments.
In this month’s blog post, board-certified neurosurgeon Dr. Ali H. Mesiwala reviews a few of the key ways that your office job can lead to spine and nerve ailments —and how we can help.
Let’s start with back and neck problems that often arise from prolonged sitting at desks. When you’re seated, you’re placing far more pressure on your spine, including the 23 intervertebral discs in between your vertebrae. This force is especially worse on the lumbar spine and pelvis.
For example, when your neck is in a straight position, the weight your cervical spine bears is the weight of your head — about 10-12 pounds. If you lower your head to a 45-degree angle, the pressure on your cervical spine rises to about 50 pounds. This added pressure can wear down your cervical discs and lead to herniated discs that compress your nerves.
This same issue can develop in your lumbar spine — excessive sitting and poor posture can increase the pressure on your spinal discs, leaving them more vulnerable to accelerated degeneration.
While disc problems in your back and neck are certainly one threat, prolonged sitting can also place too much strain on the muscles and fascia in your neck, shoulders, back, and hips. When your muscles and fascia are irritated, they can become inflamed, which places pressure on nerves, blood vessels, and bones, compounding the discomfort.
As well, poor posture and prolonged sitting can also affect the connective ligaments in your spine and in your hips, leaving you more vulnerable to back and hip problems.
While the connection between prolonged sitting and poor posture is fairly obvious, the resulting conditions can also lead to nerve entrapment issues in your wrist and arms.
Carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects between 1% and 5% of the population (women outpace men by 3 to 1), is a condition in which your median nerve is compressed in the passage on the underside of your wrist — your carpal tunnel. While there are several roads to carpal tunnel syndrome, poor wrist position at a computer is one.
Another office hazard is cubital tunnel syndrome, which describes compression of your ulnar nerve in your elbow. This condition can occur when you use armrests that pinch your nerves or when your arms aren’t properly aligned.
If you’re experiencing back, neck, arm, wrist, or any other pain that you suspect may be related to your office job, there are ways to relieve the pain and halt the musculoskeletal damage.
Our first steps are to work on your posture and help you design a more ergonomic office space. Whether it’s putting your screen at eye level or outfitting yourself with wrist guards or a standing desk, there are plenty of options that provide you with a healthier work environment.
We also work with you on devising habits that get you moving — like stretching your body every hour or going for small walks.
As an expert on spinal surgery, Dr Mesiwala not only focuses on surgical treatment of these work releated conditions but also works with allied professionals to ensure that his patients are able to prevent these conditions from developing. He is always a big advocate for overall health wellness for all of his patients.
Treatment for these conditions starts with a conservative approach like physical therapy or bracing, but then can evolve to more pain management/neuromodulation therapies and in medically refractory cases, some type of surgical intervention depending on the situation.
If you’re finding work to be a real pain (a physical one, that is!), please contact one of our offices in Newport Beach, Marina del Rey, or Rancho Cucamonga, California, to schedule a consultation.