Overworked Spine

19 June 2019

Mismatched chair, badly adjusted monitor, improper lifting of weights, inappropriate use of phones, walking in high heels... What is good for our spine, and which habits destroy it? Learn the principles to follow when working in the office everyday.

Does it happen to you, too? Engrossed in paperwork, with things to do for yesterday, you spend a few hours at a desk without taking breaks? It does not serve the spine well, our spine requires movement and changing positions! The spine should be mobile, it cannot stay still for too long.

For an athlete who actively spends the day, a regeneration for muscles and joints would be inactivity, but for people who sit for many hours every day at the desk, the best recreation will be movement. This is the best prevention! – says Łukasz Markiewicz,
a physiotherapist from the Carolina Medical Center.

If you do not change your habits, you may feel pain later on, and after years, you can experience degenerative changes and discopathy in intervertebral discs.

Karolina Goławska, a physiotherapist at Carolina Medical Center, draws attention to the fact that people who are leaning for hours on smartphones or landline telephones and those working in front of the screen of their computers tend to take the position with the neck leaning forward, hunched back and shoulders set inwards, which causes the chest to close, and this leads to T4 syndrome.

This is not a specific disease, but a set of symptoms that indicate that there is a disorder in the thoracic segment of a spine” - says the physiotherapist – “As a result, we wake up at night because of pain, our hands are numb, we have frequent headaches. These symptoms may indicate a blockage in the thoracic spine. We may feel pain in the area of the sternum, the shoulder may be overloaded. Any monotonous position without restraint will be harmful – explain Karolina Goławska.

Follow the rule: 1 hour of work, a 5-minute break

Taking breaks at work is beneficial not only to our spine, but also to our general well-being and commitment to professional duties. During the break, do a little gymnastics. Let the muscles relax and rest! You can perform circling and swinging of arms, twisting and tilting of the head, as well as exercises involving pulling the hands above the head and circling of the wrists.

Pay attention to ergonomics at work


What does your workplace look like? Do you have a chair with adjustable height, seat level and backrest inclination? It should be mobile (on wheels), comfortable and stable. Make sure that your knees are at or below the hip level. The feet should be on the floor. It is important to sit on a chair with about 90 degrees of flexion in the knee and hip joints.

Stressed businessman with backache, he is working at office desk and massaging his back

Remember that a lumbar spine must be supported while sitting. Always sit deep in the chair. Its back should have a delicate convexity so that you can tighten the lumbar region. That way you will set the chest and neck sections correctly.

FPhysiotherapist Łukasz Markiewicz also draws attention to the correct positioning of the armrests. They cannot be set too high, they should not push our arms up. Hands should rest freely, but they cannot hang! If they are too high, then the neck tension will increase. If they hang, then the brachial plexus may be squeezed.


The top of the desk should be slightly below the height of the elbow. It is important that you can put your hands and wrists freely while operating the mouse and keyboard. Try not to bend or twist your wrists while working at the computer.


Make sure you have the correct monitor settings. It cannot be too low or too high. The eyesight should be located approximately 70 cm from the screen (upper edge of the monitor at eye level). This way you will not have to compensate for the position of the head. If the monitor is set too low, you will bow your head forward, overloading the muscles of the spine, and above all the muscle of the lobed neck and levator shoulder muscle. This is the most common overload in people who work with their heads outstretched, from the so-called head protraction (leaning).

If the screen is located diagonally, then you turn the head to the left or right or tilt the head forward. This causes tension in the muscles of the spine and chest.

In everyday office work, the right accessories are also important. What kind of computer mouse do you work with? It should not change the hand layout, and the wrist must be in a neutral position. The healthiest is to hold your hand vertically, that's why all users of computer mice should get used to using a vertical ergonomic mouse. Working with a traditional mouse is disadvantageous and can cause various types of symptoms such as numbness in the fingers, pain in the elbow or wrist.

If a patient complains about pain of the wrist, we always treat him in a holistic way. We check not only the wrist, forearm, elbow and shoulder, but also the cervical and the thoracic sections of the spine. In each of these places can be found a cause of pain. The spinal pain alone can only be the result of what is happening in our body – says Karolina Bojakowska, a physiotherapist at the Carolina Medical Center.

If you have to lift something, do it right!

If you want to lift something of a small weight from the floor, you do not have to squat. Go ahead, crouch down, bend your spine.

This is the most natural and physiological movement. Another rule applies when lifting heavy objects, such as heavy cardboard. In that situation the spine must be placed in a neutral position – says physiotherapist Krzysztof Placzki.

  • heavy object should be placed between the legs at the line of the large toe;
  • when reaching for a heavy package, bend your legs and keep the spine straight, lower your body using movement in the hip and knee joints;
  • lifting it, use the strength generated by the lower limbs, do not "lift with the spine".

Use your phone correctly

Many hours of tilting the head over the screen of mobile phones results not only in long-term bending of the cervical spine forward, which causes muscle overload, but also in poor body position. Then we suffer from headaches, tingling and numbness in the hands and fingers. In time degenerative changes may occur due to disturbed balance of cervical spine, and the entire spine.

When working in the office, do you regularly use a landline telephone? Our advice: do not hold the handset only in one hand, but keep putting it from one to another. Try not to bend your head and during the conversation do not lean your elbow on the desk. Avoid a long-lasting position of holding the handset between the ear and the neck, that is resting your head on shoulder.

This is an absolutely unnatural posture! This position of the body can cause serious problems with the cervical spine and even the thoracic and lumbar spine! – says the physiotherapist Karolina Bojakowska – With longer telephone conversations the best solution is the headphones – adds the specialist.

Wearing high heels to work - is it a good choice?

Wearing high heels affects our entire body.

When our heels are lifted, the center of gravity automatically moves forward, which causes the deepening of the lumbar lordosis, and then the compensation of the entire spine. Long-term admission of such a position can lead to discomfort, pain or even cause the degeneration of the spine – says Karolina Bojakowska.

Do you wear high heels and you have frequent migraine headaches? These two factors can be related to each other. Walking in high heels also affects the rest of our body. Karolina Bojakowska draws attention to the fact that most of us do not have a proper walking pattern. Some ladies walk on bent legs, others on maximally straightened knees. And this affects our entire body, including the pelvis, hips and feet. Walking in high heels is dangerous not only for our spine. Narrow shoes increase the risk of hallux valgus, i.e. bunions, as well as hammer toes.

When asked what is the safest height of a high heels, the specialist answers: – There is no ready prescription. Let's use common sense. It would be optimal to often change the height of the footwear!

Do not sit with legs crossed!

Especially women like to sit down like this. As a result of such way of sitting, pain may occur in the lower limbs, increased blood pressure in the arteries of the lower limbs and numbness of the feet. There is a risk of developing varicose veins, too.

Sitting down with legs crossed is destructive and unhealthy especially for the lumbar spine, hips and pelvis. Long-term sitting effects in shortening of the ilio-lumbar muscles, and this can cause contractures. During sitting the pressure in the abdomen increases, which consequently can lead to problems with internal organs. In this position, the head of the femur tightly adheres to the acetabulum, which in turn influences the contraction of the joint capsule of the hip joint, which may cause degeneration – explains Karolina Bojakowska.

Gentlemen, do not sit on your wallets!

A common habit among men is to sit on the wallet carried in the back pocket of the pants. It's like sitting with a pad under one buttock. This causes an oblique position of the pelvis, and the lateral flexion of the spine occurs. It may also cause pain in the lumbar region. Muscles are stretched and irritated. Such a fixed position can lead to degenerative disc changes, but not centrally, but laterally – says physiotherapist Łukasz Markiewicz. – We should sit with the figure straight, in such a way that the two sciatic lumps (posterior rough hump, which is part of the sciatic bones) have contact with the seat – adds the specialist.

Journey to work. Ensure comfort on the go!

Do you commute to work by car? Regardless of the length of the route, ensure travel comfort. It should be safe and soothing, even if the journey takes only a few minutes. Take care of the details! If you force the spine to an uncomfortable position, you expose it to tensions, which in consequence may lead to pain.

First of all – Journey to work. Ensure comfort on the go! the height of the driver’s seat must be adjusted accordingly to the driver's height, so that his view is wide and there is no need to tilt head in order to look in a rear view mirror. Moreover, the knees should not touch the steering wheel.

Secondly – the driver's seat should be positioned in such a way that the leg is slightly bent when pressing the clutch. Make sure that your back completely adheres to the chair when turning the steering wheel. For this purpose, Artur Hendzelek, a physiotherapist at the Carolina Medical Center, recommends the following test: place your hands on the steering wheel in the quarter to three position (2.45 o’clock). Then change to three (3 o’clock). During this maneuver, your shoulder should touch the driver’s seat all the time. Now set the headrest. Its upper part must be at the height of the occiput, but slightly below the top of the head. Driving comfort is also ensured by the correct position of hands on the steering wheel. They should be set to quarter to three o'clock and slightly bent at the elbows.

After work, make sure to regenerate!

Hours of sitting caused that your muscles are under severe stress. After work, they need to rest well. When you get back home, sit comfortably with legs raised up, take care of loosening calves and lumbar spine, which was tense throughout the day. Stretch out, spend a few minutes a day on it. Massage or a warm bath will also help to reduce muscle tension. Or maybe after work you plan to go to the swimming pool or the gym? It's a great idea to get your body off an eight-hour day's work.