Dr. Allan Horowitz, published newspaper article, The Toronto Star, Copyright October 27, 1988

Sitting at a desk for most of the work day is no fun. Pain in the neck and upper and lower back and general stiffness usually result. The simple solution for most office workers is to get up and stretch. But what if that isn’t possible?

Board meetings, reception work, working on the switchboard or doing steady data processing all mean sitting in a chair for hours without a break. What can you do if your job requires that you be tied to a chair for hours at a time? You enjoy your work or you need your paycheque, so quitting is out of the question. How can you sit back, relax and make the most of a bad situation?

Most large companies will go out of their way to make employees happy and comfortable. Many studies tell us that a happy employee works at a higher concentration level and has a higher output level than one who despises management.

If you work for one of these companies or you have a good relationship with your boss, or both, tell him or her you are not comfortable at work and feel a better chair would help.

Thick foam

Many companies manufacture chairs designed for office workers with back pain. Chairs are now being designed for use in front of a computer keyboard, reception area, executive seating, drafting stools and many other specialty seating systems.

Flimsy back padding has been replaced by thick, firm, countered foam. Thin plastics have been replaced by sturdy wood and metal frames. Standard designs have been pushed aside to make room for chairs that look like they were designed by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Some chairs don’t have backs, and the user is supposed to kneel on a pad to keep the spine straight.

The old price tags have been replaced by new ones that require the purchaser to consider seeking advice from his or her bank manager first. However, most of these chairs do offer better support and greater comfort.

If you don’t work for a large, progressive company, and if you think your boss would tell you and your sore back to take a hike if you asked for a new chair, you might try saving to buy your own chair or dropping a few hints around Christmas.

Make a mold

            Less expensive are back supports that fit snugly between your back and your old chair. Some of these supports do the job nicely by forcing your spine to maintain its most efficient and comfortable state while you sit. Any drugstore or orthopedic supply department will stock a wide variety.

If you are handy with a needle and thread, try this trick. Take a roll of aluminum foil and unroll enough to place behind the small of your back while you sit in your office chair. Crumple the foil to make a mold of your back from the lowest part of your spine up to your middle back. Go to an upholstery shop and get a thick but supportive piece of foam cut in the shape of the aluminum foil mold. Make some holes in the foam to let air circulate. Cover the foam with material and sew it with a zipper so that the cover can be removed for washing.

If you have a good chair or back support and you still feel pain while working, find some way to place a small stool, box or telephone book under your desk. This object should be at least 15 centimetres (6 inches) high and, when you place your feet on it just high enough to raise your knees above the level of your hips. This will lessen the strain on your lower back.

Keeping your legs moving under your desk and constantly changing positions in your chair will also help keep your blood circulating. Of course, keeping fit in general is very important for everyone, but especially so for office workers who don’t get any exercise at work. Stretching exercises, using stairs instead of elevators, and walking or riding a bicycle to and from work will all help decrease the stiffness most office workers feel. Your energy level and outlook will also be improved and Monday mornings at the office won’t be such an ordeal.