When you’re reading this article could also determine how you’re reading it. If you’re reading it first thing in the morning or last thing at night, you’ll probably be quite comfortable.
If you’re reading it just before lunchtime, however, there’s a high chance you’ll be doubled up in pain. Because scientists from George Institute for Global Health and Sydney Medical School have discovered that the highest attacks of back pain, and the highest danger of putting your back out, come before lunchtime.
They also added that being tired when lifting or moving something triples the risk of sudden back pain, and sitting in an awkward position increases the chances eightfold.
Of course, for many, that ‘awkward position’ means being sat at their office desk. “Back pain is becoming remarkably common amongst office workers and others who sit all day,” says Tim Allardyce, physiotherapist and clinical director at Surrey Physio.
“As our lives become more sedentary with the advance of technology, we are leaving our bodies at risk of suffering with chronic spinal pain. The main reason being that our bodies are designed to move, to stay flexible, and not suited to sitting long hours.”
Obviously, knowing this doesn’t mean we can do that much about it – we can’t all just walk away of our jobs. But, Allardyce says, simply walking away from the desk for a couple of minutes can be enough.
“My first tip for easing back pain is get up out of your chair every 30 minutes for a two-minute walk around the office. Use any excuse to get up - go grab a water or go and talk to a colleague rather than emailing them.”
There’s also the basic need to move more frequently, not just during the working day, but whenever you can.
“If you sit down all day, you probably then travel home sitting, and then sit down to eat your dinner before sitting on the sofa to watch TV,” says Allardyce.
“Get out of that habit and do some exercise! Swim twice a week, walk regularly, and cycle once per week to get the spine more mobile and your core muscles stronger.”
[Related story: Is your mattress giving you a bad back?]
Better before bed
If you notice your back pain specifically in the morning, it could be because inflammation can build up during the night due to the immobility of the spine. If this is happening, you will typically feel sore getting out of bed, putting your socks on and cleaning your teeth. The trick is to do some mobility exercises before you go to bed, says Allardyce.
“Rotation exercises are excellent – lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the mattress, and drop your knees to each side creating a gentle and safe rotation stretch to the spine. Perform 10 each side to keep your back mobile, and do this before going to sleep and when waking.”
Get your screen right
To avoid a back-breaking day of labour, you need to set up your computer screen just right. “Place the screen at the correct height – the upper third of the screen should be at eye level, make sure your hips and knees are at 90 degrees, and don’t use a laptop at work,” says Allardyce, warning against the typical hunched pose of a portable PC user.
“If you do fall short in these areas, you will be over-flexing your spine, and susceptible to lower back disc problems.
The Goldilocks rule
As a general rule, Allardyce says you should go for a mattress that’s not too hard, not too soft, but supportive and comfortable.
“Definitely invest in a good quality mattress,” he says. “Memory foam mattresses have gained popularity in recent years due to their ability to mould to the shape of your spine hence providing support to your body, and memory foam toppers can be useful as well.
“But how do you know if a mattress is comfortable? Try before you buy – go into a bed shop and lie on 10 mattresses, you will soon get a feel for what’s comfy or not.”