Long hours at a desk: A quest for the cure for “Office Back”

I’ve found the cure for lower back pain, or “office back.” Well maybe I didn’t find it, but I did hear about it from a chiropractor, use it in life, then made it my own. As somebody who has a spent an awful lot of time sitting at desks I’ve had lots of problems with lower back pain. I’ve tried just about everything under the sun from massages, to chiropractors, to all different types of stretches, and while a lot of things worked a little bit, nothing worked all the time. Luckily, I’ve finally found something that works.

I’ve started using a lacrosse ball to deep tissue massage the muscles in my lower back and it’s been incredibly effective for me. First you take the lacrosse ball and pin it between yourself and the wall. From there you almost do a sort of wall squat up and down the wall and use the lax ball to dig into the muscles that are getting knotted up from sitting at a desk for 8 to 10 hours a day. It’s the type of thing that you should probably do alone because I speak from experience when I say you will be made fun of if somebody sees you doing it. Squatting up and down the wall while trying to dig the lax ball into your lower back does not leave you looking very dignified but I have found that it makes you feel a lot better.

So in the face of some funny comments from friends and family who have seen me do it, I will continue. I’ve even caught a few of them trying it out. It’s definitely one of those things that it doesn’t matter how you look its how you feel and it has certainly made me feel a lot better. It’s very similar to a lot of what people are doing with foam rollers on their hips to release some of the tension from their muscles. I keep a lax ball with me at work, I’ve got one at home, one in my home office, and I keep one in my car. Whenever I start to feel a little bit tight I take it out, spend 3 to 5 minutes using it on my lower back where the muscles feel knotted, and the next thing you know I feel much better.

So it’s worth a try for all of you that spend a lot of time at a desk. There are a lot of other things that I’ve tried that are helpful including making sure that you get up at regular intervals. This is another one that if you just get up a couple times an hour and get a quick stretch you’ll find that at the end of the day you’re not nearly as miserable as you could be; but if you do end up with that horrible set of knotted muscles the lax ball is a really good way to cure “office back.”

Photo credit: Eugenio “The Wedding Traveler” WILMAN

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Michelle Kuah

Love this post! I use a tennis ball, and know some who prefer raquetballs. You can also use the back of your office chair throughout the workday if a wall isn’t convenient. Just pin the ball between the chair and your lower back, and engage your core to let your back muscles relax. 🙂

Alexandra Griffin

I second LAX rolling! It’s painful at first, but really makes a difference if you do a bit every day. Google “trigger points” for more information.

Marie Koko

I have had UPPER back pain for going on 2 1/2 years now. It’s not as bad as it was at first – some ergonomic changes helped – but the only thing that really helps is regular upper body exercises (which I get too busy to do regularly) and a foam roller.

Dick Davies

I had end of day back spasms for thirty years.

Every morning I do the Temple Stretch at the gym. Sit on a high seat (thigh/shin 90 degrees or more).

Put both hands on knees and slowly lower trunk toward floor. Let go of arms on knees. Hang for a 30 second count.

Use arms on knees to slowly raise trunk. Sit. Breathe

I repeat 2 and 3 resting my hands on my head for more stretch. I’m usually six inches farther down after three reps. Always use arms to raise trunk to upright.

Works the longissimus muscle and attachments. Named for the sitting Buddha statues in the temple.

Immediately stopped back spasms and I’ve continued for three years so far.

Jeffrey Levy

Interesting idea. I get good relief via the cobra strech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDcdhTuycOI Lie down on your stomach and slowly push your arms up until your back is curved (the video shows it well). Just hang your body on your arms and you’ll feel your hips slowly sink toward the floor. Don’t push down – just let your weight do the work. If you’re too tight to lift up on your hands, just go to your elbows at first. Do this 3 times.

The reverse is also good: lie on your back and pull your knees to your chest so your lower back comes off the floor.

Those are stretches. I also have good results from two exercises, both done while lying on your back with your knees up. First, press the small of your back into the floor, straightening out the natural bend. Do that maybe 20 times, holding to a count of 5 each time. Second, push your hips upward until your back is bent. Again, hold for a count of 5 and do as many reps as feel good.

Carol Davison

I get ?cramps? between my shoulders. A Orthopedic surgeon friend said these were the first areas humans loose strength or motion. So I do litte arm circles, throw imaginary tennis balls overhand, and imagine that I’m standing against a fence and lift my elbows to my shoulders. I do these walking the dog, at the dog park, on the train platform, etc. If there were room I would do them in the subway. The idea is to stretch or constrict what normally isn’t. My sister just does what her cats do when they stretch, lays on her back, bringers her knees to her chest and tries to touch down right and left. I guess Presbyterian elders don’t do cobra stretches?

Joshua Millsapps

Thanks for the great ideas, stretching regularly is really a big part of this and I have been doing a little better in this category as well. I’m tempted to start doing the cobra stretch just so I say I do it. The first thing I thought of when I saw that comment was the Karate Kid and the Cobra Kai.

Also, thanks to Alexandra Griffin for mentioning “trigger points” and google. There is a lot out there and finding what works for you will probably take some trial and error.

Kathryn David

Thanks for posting this! As someone just starting out, any ideas for preventative steps? The best way to relieve pain is to prevent injury in the first place!

Keeping that in mind, yoga is great for addressing these issues. YouTube has a lot of free yoga videos that are great to do in the morning before work or in the afternoon as you’re cooking dinner.

Carla Patterson

You all have been very insightful. I just recently started to feel lower back pain and shoulder pain. I will try out these techniques now. Thanks.

Henry Brown

Found something very similiar works well for “me”, use a basketball to help relax the lower back muscles while sitting in my chair… Probably looks just as funny but don’t have to leave my desk and expose myself to the whole world getting the kinks out!