Chiropractors say spending hours at a desk or in the car can be the cause of back pain, and suggest solutions.
Driving or at the desk, give your back a break
ABU DHABI // Desk jockeys and commuting drivers, you have been warned.
Professionals who spend hours at a desk or face a daily commute need to take action to avoid back problems, specialists say.
The height of the desk and chair at the office, and the shape of car seats and posture when driving can all contribute to back pain, said Dr Charles Jones, the director of the California Chiropractic and Sports Medicine Centre in Dubai Healthcare City.
Men, for example, should take their wallets out of their back pockets when they are driving because its bulk puts the hips out of alignment and will lead to pain, Dr Jones said.
And it is not only the make, model, colour and engine size that should be factors in deciding which car to buy.
"Given the significant amount of time we spend in our cars for work, leisure or family commitments, the comfort and support derived from the car seat should really be the most important selection factor," Dr Jones said.
"The driving seat is important to avoid poor posture or potentially harming your back. Ensuring the seats in your new car are right for your height and build is crucial."
The risk to the back is increased by stressful traffic.
Lower back pain is one of the most common complaints in a chiropractor's clinic, said Dr Oudi Abouchacra, the director of the Chiropractic Specialty Center in Abu Dhabi.
Most complaints come from professionals who sit at their desks for at least eight hours a day, or who commute between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Dr Abouchacra said.
"The top complaints are basically lower back pain, neck pain, headaches, arm and leg pain and disc injuries," he said.
These are closely followed by complaints of tension, muscle spasms, sciatica, scoliosis and sports injuries.
"The main reasons for the back and neck pain problems is pretty much the way we live, coupled with stress and an imbalance of exercise and diet in one's lifestyle," Dr Abouchacra said.
Poor posture at work, where professionals spend most of their day hunched over a computer, and bad posture when driving will almost inevitably lead to pain, both doctors said.
"The back of the [car] seat should be set slightly backwards so that it feels natural, and your elbows should be at a comfortable and relaxed angle for driving," Dr Jones said.
"Once you have adjusted your seat correctly, your hands should fall naturally on the steering wheel, with just a slight bend in the arms."
If the steering wheel is too high or too far back, tension will build up in the shoulders and upper back. If it is too low or too close, the wheel may be touching the legs, which will reduce the ability to turn it freely, putting strain on the wrists and the muscles of the upper back.
Dr Abouchacra said desk workers also needed to learn ways to avoid back pain.
"An inactive job is terrible from a metabolism and fat-burning point of view, let alone pressure on the spine," he said.
"When you are standing, you burn double the calories you would when sitting, according to many university studies, and your fat-metabolising enzymes begin to lose their function to the point where they turn off."
Standing up every 30 minutes for a mere 30 seconds could make a world of a difference, Dr Abouchacra said.
"By standing, we engage the quad muscles and relieve stress on the spine," he said. "It is so important to stay relatively active throughout the day."
When commuting, drivers should get out of the car when they stop for petrol, Dr Abouchacra said.
"If it is 50°C outside and you don't want to get out of the car, at least recline your car seat to reduce stress on the spine, which can only be done when you are standing or when you are lying down," he said.
Dr Abouchacra's centre holds free weekly seminars on proper posture every Sunday at 7pm.
"We will talk about posture and the right way to sit at work and in the car, but I also want to talk about life balance," he said.
"For the working person living in Dubai and working in Abu Dhabi, trying to save rent and waking up every morning and doing nothing but rushing to work, there needs to be an adjustment to the life-work balance."
Starting each day with something personal, such as reading the paper, having breakfast or a coffee with a loved one, or making time for some exercise could mean the difference between pain from stress and peace of mind.
"It's all related," Dr Abouchacra said.