10 ways to save your back at work

Do you spend all day slouching at a desk? Stay healthy with these tips

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Most office workers spend up to 10 hours a day (sometimes more) working and, unlike many countries, the UAE has no ergonomics laws to safeguard your posture and comfort while you’re sitting at your desk. We spoke to chiropractor Dr Samuel Saukkonen (above), who’s on a mission to help Dubai’s employees through his corporate ergonomics checks, to learn how to stop that niggle in your neck from becoming a chronic injury.

1 Take a break
‘Take a two-minute or even a 30-second break every half an hour. It’s actually more productive – your brain will function better. In countries such as Finland, Sweden and Japan, businesses often have ‘walking meetings’ because light exercise improves brain activity. Sometimes they even have a treadmill in the office so that people can walk for two minutes every now and then. Some people take a break at work every
half an hour to check Facebook or text their friends; instead, get up, walk around and talk to a colleague.’

2 Keep your air conditioning at 22°C
‘Air conditioning is a big issue in the UAE because it’s so hot outside that it needs to be used at a high intensity. If you’re at a workstation where the cool air from the A/C hits the back of your neck, your body will register that temperature change and start contracting those muscles to create heat, which will lead to pain. But if the A/C is set at 22°C or 23°C, it’s not so cold that your body has to compensate.’

3 Wear the right shoes
‘A mid-sized heel (about three inches) will support your weight and prevent strain of the muscles in your calves and hamstrings. Too high a heel will, over time, tilt your pelvis and shoulders forward and arch your back too much. Trainers or lifestyle shoes from companies such as Adidas and Nike look good and also give your foot good arch support – they offer more support than completely flat shoes.’

4 Work your abs and your back
‘Everyone wants to have a six pack, but if you have strong abs and a weak lower back, you’re going to get pelvic tilt. You need equal pressure on both sides to keep straight. Try postural exercises, Pilates and
core stability, but be careful: people often go for high-strength, high-intensity exercises; it’s better to go slowly and try simple exercises such as the plank so you don’t hurt yourself. Swimming is also very good because you’ll stretch the muscles that have been shortened from your work posture. Any kind of exercise 30 minutes a day will help to counterbalance damage done by sitting in your office.’

5 Stand up straight
‘When you’re standing straight, your ears should be in line with your shoulders – if they’re any further forward than that, you have forward head carriage. One good rule is that when you’re staring straight ahead, make sure you can see the outline of your nose. If you can’t, you’re hunched.’

6 Get your seat right
Dr Sam strongly recommends getting a complex seat that offers adjustable arm support, five castors instead of four and ample back support. Unfortunately, for many in Dubai this isn’t affordable unless their company provides it, but you can make the best out of a bad situation by a) adjusting your seat height so that your forearms can sit parallel between your desk and your arm rests; b) making sure you can place your feet centred and flat on the ground once you’ve raised the level of your seat (if you can’t, buy a small foot rest); and c) adjusting your computer monitor’s height so that the top of the screen is at eye level.

7 Ditch your third phone
Today, many people carry mobile phones, iPads, mini laptops and more in their bags. It’s impossible to carry nothing around, but try to keep it minimal to avoid weighing down your bag and causing more back damage.

8 Talk nice
‘If you hold your phone against your shoulder and your ear while talking, you’re likely to get spasms and chronic contractions all the way to the upper neck, which may lead to a bad headache. If you have to type while you’re on the phone, get an earpiece – it looks flash too, like you’re a bodyguard.’

9 Pick things up properly
‘Bend with your knees. Never twist and lift something from the side.’

10 Stay safe
behind the wheel ‘Many people spend a lot of their working day in their car. If you’re one of them, make sure you have proper back support in your seat. If you don’t, most good chiropractic clinics sell wedges that offer support. Ideally, your seat should be fairly straight, not reclined as in a sports car.’

Emirates European Medical Centre offers in-clinic chiropractic services, as well as office ergonomics checks. Visit www.chiropracticdubai.com for info.

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