Thursday, April 14, 2011

Step 3: Use a Lumbar Support

The Desk Warriors Guide to Building a Healthy Back! 3/10

Now that we've learned that there is no one "ideal" sitting posture and that we Desk Warriors must have a repertoire of tolerable postures. Our repertoire should include mostly postures that allow for the spine maintain its natural curves, specifically the lumbar curve.

Some chairs set you up for failure right from the start.

The above chair has no lumbar support and will have your arse lower than your knee, creating flexed, weakened, painful spines. When working with these chairs it is essential to arm yourselves with a weapon. This weapon will spare your spinal capacity for more important tasks like playing with your children, doing yard work, or walking the dog.

The Weapon I speak of is a lumbar support and it comes in many shapes and sizes. Before I elaborate on those, lets examine why a lumbar support is essential to those interested in their spinal health. Lumbar supports should be a part of any Desk Warriors arsenal because they help place you in a more natural seated position. Rather that eliciting a great muscular effort from your hip flexors, abdominals, obliques, and lumbar spinal muscles to maintain your lumbar curve, (placing compressive load on the spine in a flexed position) we can rely more on our passive tissues in a less compressed manner. This means you'll be able to sit longer without detriment. You can type the rest of that paper, send out those last few e-mails, make those last calls etc... You'll be a more productive worker with less damage to your spine.

Granted we want to sit less for a multitude of health reasons, we still sometimes need to sit for prolonged periods and sitting with a lumbar support will help that cause.

A good lumbar support is one that will allow you to maintain a similar lumbar curve to when you are standing with good posture. This should be the position in which you are standing tall and that your core muscles are most relaxed. Go ahead stand up and find this position. You should be able to go in a 360' wrap around your spine, feeling all the muscles and not getting too much tense feedback, especially in the muscles of the lumbar spine. If you can't stand without tensed core muscles, we've got a problem. This lack of muscle tone indicates a lack of compressive force and thus, a posture that can be tolerated for longer durations.

Now, lets visit the lumbar supports and their various shapes and sizes. As stated above, the right lumbar support for you is one that will help you achieve the amount of lordosis that you naturally possess when standing. Some Desk Warriors may require more support than others. For others, too much support may be just as uncomfortable or more uncomfortable as no support at all. Though there is some individuality in the needs for lumbar support, the idea of supporting the lumbar spine when sitting is still valid and should be pursued.

Lumbar supports come in various shapes and sizes as evidenced on I recommend the contoured variety, like the Carex Lumbar Support Cushion. They embrace your entire low back and apply a bit of support from the sides. I have personally tried the McKenzie lumbar support and McKenzie air support and found them to be flimsy and less supportive. I personally use a Welby foam lumbar support that is very similar to the Carex variety. They can be purchased from time to time at Aldi (the grocery store). I haven't found them online. Look for a support that wraps around your chair so that it will stay in place. Versatility is also something to consider. Remember, changing positions often is desirable. Your lumbar support can be a tool to facilitate this.

You don't have to go out and spend cash to use lumbar supports. You can simply roll up a towel, use a small pillow, the dog, a book. I don't care what you use, but you should use something. I do however recommend buying a lumbar support; one that you enjoy and will use often. I don't anticipate people using rolled up towels often. The less work you have to do the better, and the more often you use it while sitting the better. Buy one for work, one for home and one for the car. Heck, if you are really orthopedically mangled, you may even want to sleep with one. McKenzie sells 180' spinal support wraps that will help preserve your lumbar spine for our side and back sleepers. Consider this an option if lower back pain keeps you awake at night, or if resting does not alleviate your back pain resulting from a days work.

So get out there and get yourself a nice lumbar support and use it! Spare your spine for more battles at the desk!

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