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World of back health 

At work

Live agile, work healthy

People are made to move, not for sitting or monotonous work. Anyone who sits for long periods at work, lifts heavy things or has to stand can still do a lot to make it more back friendly.

Subway and bus drivers travel dozens of kilometres every day. They ensure that their passengers are mobile and themselves, sit motionless at the wheel for long periods of time. "People in Western cultures spend too much time sitting from an early age. Drivers or office workers sit for up to eleven hours a day," explains Dr. Dieter Breithecker, Chairman of Forum Gesunder Rücken - besser leben e. V. "Our muscles are not designed for such static and passive strain." Three out of four Germans suffer from back pain at least once a month according to a survey by Aktion Gesunder Rücken e. V. (Healthy Back Campaign). 30 percent of respondents claimed daily problems. "Like no other part of our body, the back is dependent on us constant movement," according to Dr. Breithecker.

Sufficient Support
Breaks, relaxation exercises and changes of posture wherever possible are important for many working people. Suitable seats or chairs also play a major role for drivers and office workers alike and are the basis for back-friendly sitting.

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Unlike bus drivers, office workers have countless other ways to do something good for their backs. If you read or type at a standing desk from time to time and walk around a little while talking on the phone, you relieve the strain on your spine, shoulders and neck. Ergonomic PC accessories can also help to reduce strain and prevent tension.

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∗  At the desk
∗  Office chairs
∗  Movement concepts for the office
∗  Meeting

People like professional drivers, who do not have the opportunity to change position or posture during their work should make a point of taking breaks with exercise and be sure to find a balance in their free time. If you follow this advice, you are not only doing something good for your back but for your whole body, explains Dr. Breithecker:

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 "Sitting for long periods with little movement can cause more than just back pain. In the medium and long term, the resulting metabolic disorders are much more serious. Metabolic syndrome with obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes 2 are very likely consequences. There are also scientifically proven links to cancer and dementia." 

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 Workplace vehicle

"No posture is so good that it should be held for a long time. That's why the next position is always the best."

Ulrich Kuhnt
Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Federal Association of German Back Schools (BdR) and Head of the Back School Hanover

Specific movements can also put strain on the back
It's not just "sitting jobs" that put stress on the back, even if this is the first thing many people think of. "No posture is so good that it should be held for long periods of time ," says Ulrich Kuhnt, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Federal Association of German Back Schools (BdR) and Head of the Back School Hanover:

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"The next position is always the best," says the expert. Just sitting and moving a mouse with your hand (often in poor lighting conditions) is just as detrimental as the repetitive movements of a hairdresser who stands on a hard salon floor all day, using scissors. Such standing activities put a lot of strain on joints, intervertebral discs and back muscles. Balancing movement, massages and a fitness program prevent pain and thus avoid absences from work.
Anyone who moves a lot in their job should also pay attention to their back health. For example, a care worker who helps frail, sometimes heavy people to stand up, move or eat. Or a bricklayer who carries heavy stones and is constantly on the move. Both are at risk of repeating certain procedures with unequal physical strain.

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  Craft
 Industrial workplaces
 Around the workplace
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Avoid monotonous movement sequences
"Physical work in itself is not a problem for the back if it involves alternating loads. On the contrary our spine depends on us challenging it," explains Dr. Breithecker.

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"Back strains result from physically one-sided, repetitive movements especially with a load." After a certain period of time our back cannot cope and this causes back pain, poor posture or secondary problems such as neck pain and headaches. Dr. Breithecker therefore recommends that all physical workers learn back-friendly techniques for lifting, packing or carrying and where possible, use aids. "Of course, it is usually not possible to completely avoid unphysiological processes in everyday life." Compensatory gymnastics help to avoid muscular imbalances. "This includes strengthening the core and abdominal muscles to build up an effective muscle base as well as relaxation exercises." Regular exercise which means several times a week is the most effective method of preventing lower back pain for all occupational groups. Training not only helps to prevent pain, it also has a positive effect on the psyche.

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Further links
Tips, information, checklists and product lists for:
 Lifting, carrying and packing aids
 Aids for cleaning buildings

But it's not just employees who should take care of their health, according to Kuhnt employers also have a duty to do so: "Employers can do a lot to promote their employees' health by offering an ergonomic workplace " explains Kuhnt.

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Aktion Gesunder Rücken e. V. certifies back friendly products for the office, home office, industry and trade work environments to ensure ergonomic workplace design. "In addition, health workshops and seminars provide background knowledge on back friendly working," explains Kuhnt. Creating incentives for more physical activity at work also helps employees in their everyday working life.

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 Experts in ergonomics and back health

A rule of thumb for everyday life
"We are designed by evolution to take many steps," explains Dr. Breithecker. A good hundred years ago, people walked a total distance of around ten kilometres a day. Today, the average distance for an office worker is one kilometre.

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 "Our biological functions require regular exercise, which should be integrated into everyday life" says the expert. He recommends investing as much as possible in everyday exercise. "Whether gymnastics, cycling, hiking, house and garden work or moderate strength training. The key is variety as it improves the fitness of the whole organism and not that of individual structures." A general rule is spending "no more than half an hour sitting down" says Dr. Breithecker. He recommends sitting for a maximum of 50 percent of all work time, standing for 30 percent and moving for 20 percent. Being agile and practicing an active lifestyle promotes the health of your back. This means that professional drivers and desk workers can lead just as back healthy a life as tradesmen or care workers and the next day they can go back to work without pain.

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Tips, information, support:
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"Our spine is dependent on us challenging it."

Dr. Dieter Breithecker
Sports and exercise scientist, expert in relationship/behavioral prevention, health maintenance, ergonomics and space

Keeping the working day active
The office should offer many "secret temptations to move", recommends Dr. Breithecker:Breithecker:

  • Organize your work processes and work equipment in such a way that there are many changes of posture (preferably between sitting and standing) and above all, routes.
  • Use standing desks or seating with a multi-dimensionally movable seat (so-called active chairs/active stools).
  • Encourage sitting in motion.
  • Use screens that can be pinned or written on in meetings. This makes meetings more agile.
  • Make phone calls while standing or walking.
  • Move the printer, photocopier and wastepaper bin to different locations.
  • Avoid elevators and escalators and take the stairs instead.

Back exercises for in between

Shoulder exercise
Grasp the wrist of the other hand with one hand and pull the arm over the head to the opposite side. Hold the tension for approx. 10 seconds and repeat the exercise with the other arm.

Stretch the arm muscles
Stretch your right arm forward and fold your hand downwards. Then grasp the fingers and palm of your right hand with your left hand and pull them towards your body.

Stretch your upper arms
Stretch one arm vertically upwards and bend your elbow as far as possible behind your head. Then pull the elbow towards the opposite shoulder with the other hand.

Head swing
Stretch your cervical spine and turn your head to the right side. Now slowly swing your chin in a semicircle over your chest to the left side. Repeat the movement approx. 10 times both ways.

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