Lower Back Pain: How to Sit at Work for a Successful Career

Obafemi is a 41-year-old accountant with one of Nigeria’s banks. He has not been to work for four months because of the excruciating pain in his lower back that leaves him in bed for most of the day.  He has not had any problem securing an extended sick leave at work because his immediate boss also suffers from debilitating lower back pain and so understands his challenge. 

With a predominance level of about 80% and an average age of 45 years, mechanical back pain (any type of back pain caused by placing abnormal stress and strain on the muscles of the spine) has reached epidemic levels among professionals in Nigeria. A common symptom is pain in the lower back that may spread to the buttocks, thighs, and at times all the way down to the ankle.  Other common symptoms include spasms and cramping in the muscles of the back and, sometimes, tingling sensation and numbness in the legs.

Mechanical back pain doesn’t just happen.  It is brought about by years of:

Avoiding Lower Back Pain: Illustration of a bad sitting position and the correct one
  • prolonged static sitting – this is simply sitting in one position for long periods of time. Prolonged static postures will inhibit blood circulation in the spine, leading to injury and faster deterioration;
  • poor sitting posture such as slouching and leaning forward to look at the computer;
  • poor ergonomics in the workplace – wrong computer, desk and chair placement leading to people adopting awkward postures while trying to get their jobs done

Since mechanical back pain is brought about by years of these wrong/bad habits at work, making a few adjustments can help you minimise the risk of developing this career-limiting ailment or slow down the deterioration of an already afflicted back.

With a predominance level of about 80% and an average age of 45 years, mechanical back pain (any type of back pain caused by placing abnormal stress and strain on the muscles of the spine) has reached epidemic levels among professionals in Nigeria.

Tips on sitting correctly at work


Read Also: Severe Lower Back Pain: The No. 1 Office Enemy

Your Chair

  • Push your hips as far back as they can go in the chair.
  • Adjust the seat height so your feet are flat on the floor and your knees equal to, or slightly lower than, your hips.
  • Adjust the back of the chair to a 100°-110° reclined angle.Make sure your upper and lower back are well supported.
  • Get a lumbar roll pillow or improvise with a small throw pillow and place in the hollow of your back whenever you sit at your desk. This will ensure your back is upright and not rounded
  • Adjust the armrests (if fitted) so that your shoulders are relaxed.If your armrests are in the way, remove them.

Your Keyboard

  • Pull up close to your keyboard.
  • Position the keyboard directly in front of your body.
  • Adjust the keyboard height so that your shoulders are relaxed, your elbows are in a slightly open position, and your wrists and hands are straight.

Read Also: Vitamins and Supplements: What You Need to Know Before Taking Them


Your Screen

Incorrect positioning of the screen can result in awkward postures. Adjust the screen so that your neck is in a neutral, relaxed position.

  • Center the screen directly in front of you, above your keyboard.
  • Position the top of the screen approximately 2-3 inches above seated eye level. (If you wear bifocals, lower the screen to a comfortable reading level).
  • Sit at least an arm’s length away from the screen and then adjust the distance for your vision.

Pauses and Breaks

Once you have correctly set up your computer workstation, use good work habits to avoid lower back pain and neck pain. No matter how perfectly you have set up your chair, table and computer, sitting or craning your neck over books or computers for a long time will slowly damage your lower back.

  • At least every 30 minutes, leave your desk, walk around and stretch your legs and back. Always try to get away from your computer during lunch breaks. This is the most important thing to do if you want to prevent or successfully manage lower back pain.
  • Organise your work so that you don’t have to sit for prolonged periods. For example, walk to other offices or desks and review or supervise projects with your colleagues while standing.
  • Always look for and use all opportunities to leave your desks e.g. by never taking lunch at your desk or making sure you have to leave your office to make tea or coffee.


Nkiru Jibuaku has practised as a physiotherapist for 18 years in both Nigeria and the United Kingdom.

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