The Zebra’s Guide to Dealing with Bad Backs and the Inconvenient Pain They Cause

It is estimated that as many as 8 out of 10 people in the UK suffer from a bad back at some time in their lives. Each year this affliction leads to over 81 million days off sickcausing increased costs to business, so we at Zebra HQ decided to produce a Back Pain Guide to help you – it's full of useful information about bad backs and how to avoid them, and there is even a short list of the right types of office chair to help sufferers in your workplace.

What Causes Back Pain?

It is likely that human evolution is a major cause of back pain, according to The Telegraph:

But there also other factors, that are not just evolutionary:

  • motor vehicle accidents;
  • injuries caused from playing sports;
  • incorrectly lifting heavy objects;
  • repetitive strain (likely from lifting not-so-heavy objects over time);
  • and osteoporotic fracture – a leading cause of back pain in the elderly.

According to the NHS over 80% of workers who spend all day sitting at a computer will also suffer from bad upper and lower back pain at some point in their lives. Scary stuff!!

Even more scary when you read back pain is costing the UK National Health System over £1 BILLION pounds per year!

So read on to find out how you can deal with – and avoid – back pain.

So what to do for painful bad backs?

Firstly it’s important to look at your posture, this can be a reason for your bad back so do have your posture checked – if you don’t have the time to book in with a professional then you might want to use Lifehacker’s bad posture test:

Next, you’ll need to work out what causes you to get chronic back pain –  what activity (or lack of) is causing it and at when does it happen: is it at set times, or is more infrequent but only after certain tasks?

For instance some say that jogging is bad for your back, but there are others who find that a lack of exercise is the problem. The truth is that it is the wrong sort of exercise that causes pain, and if you avoid it all together, you should be aware that obesity also contributes to bad backs, as more weight adds greater pressure to your spine.

You can read more here:

What causes the “spasm” pain with bad backs?

Some people get a small nagging pain in their back which, though uncomfortable, can be (partially) ignored once one gets used to it being there (it will fade, usually within 12 weeks according to the NHS). However, others may experience the alarming feeling of really bad back spasms, which are intensely painful and debilitating for the person on the receiving end of them.

What you should do in a back pain emergency?

It is recommended you should see your doctor if your back muscles do go into spasm - especially if the pain is frequent or very severe - just to make sure there is nothing really serious. Otherwise you may find back pain is caused by occasional bouts of local muscle spasm and inflammation that can be controlled with Voltarol or other painkillers. Commonly, microscopic damage causes on-going injury and this can lead to a cycle of pain with inflamed muscles, more really painful spasms, and greater levels of scarring culminating in an overall weak back.

Some suggest that lying on a flat surface or very hard mattress is the best way to combat back pain.  Modern medicine often suggests that sufferers actually carry out gentle exercise and regular activity such as walking, swimming or cycling to strengthen the back (and possibly lose any weight that is a contributing factor). Hard impact exercises such as running, jogging, squash or tennis (unless on grass) really should be avoided if you are worried about your back.

If you are looking for good, gentle stretches for your back then check out this article from the Ladies' Home Journal:


Getting the back pain relief message - direct from the Experts!

James Tomkies, Managing Director, PhysioElite

We asked James Tompkies, Managing Director of PhysioElite - a specialist physiotherapy clinic in Bristol, a few questions about the problems office workers suffer with their back, what causes them and how they can be avoided.

What is the biggest cause of back pain for people working at desks in offices?

 “It generally comes down to a poor desk set up causing them to lean in to their desks and curving their spine or rotate their body rather than sitting squarely at their desk.  The position of their computer monitor, mouse and keyboard as well as having the incorrect support for their back and legs can all cause problems.”


How can people prevent causing problems with their back whilst sitting at their desks? 

 “There are a number of different things to consider.  A health and safety assessment of their working environment should be completed to review the position of all of their equipment and any changes made.  They should also ensure they have decent seating which gives the correct support to their back and is fully adjustable so that they can sit in the correct position with their knees lower than their hips. This extends the spine and prevents problems.”


Who should they see / what should they do if suffering with chronic back pain?

 “For many the first port of call when suffering with back pain is their GP who will probably give them an anti inflammatory if appropriate and essentially tell them to see if that works.  If, which is likely, the back problem still persists then some kind of biomechanical solution such as Physiotherapy, Chiropractic treatment or exercises will help, plus more importantly they need to address the cause of the problem by making sure they address the issues with their seating position.”

Prevention is better than cure!

To find out more about PhysioElite, click on the logo below:

PhysioElite - Back Pain Specialists in Bristol


Will using a Seat Cushion on my office chair help minimise back pain?

In some circumstances a seat cushion placed on a chair may relieve pain for users, especially if you sit at your desk or computer for a long time. But do not rely entirely on a cushion to help, you’ll want to combine this with regular walks around the office and gentle stretches at your desk to keep your muscles from spasming.

It may also help to get a foot rest placed under your desk to help relieve any potential back pain, but you should also ask the office boss to buy you a decent computer desk chair.

Ultimately it’s all about moderation. Knowing when to get up from your computer is key to preventing your lower or upper back from going into those painful spasms.

If your desk-bound employment is a key factor in aggravating your back pain you may even benefit from changing your job!

Photo courtesy of


We Asked Bristol's top job Expert FOR THE RIGHT JOB FOR THOSE WITH BACK PAIN...

Maria King, Managing Director at Jungle Jobs

We asked Maria King, MD and renowned recruitment consultant of Jungle Jobs for her thoughts on the best types of jobs suitable for workers suffering with back pain:

Receptionist - dealing with customers, meeting rooms, taking calls and sorting post.

Call Centre role - often desk based with good supporting chairs, foot rest, wrist rests and headsets. You can sit, stand or bounce on a ball to keep active.

Teacher - you have information to share and can stand to lecture, lean on a wall whilst showing a film and sit to grade papers and assignments.

As you’ll note Maria is not advocating a career in flying or golf for those with back pain but do find out more about Maria King's recruitment company in Bristol - click on the logo below:

Jungle Jobs Specialists in Bristol

Do Office Chairs Cause Back Pain?

Yes and no.

Though a modern (but cheap) office chair will meet the minimum requirements, it won’t have the features you need to really ensure your back stays in tip top condition when you’re confined to your desk.

Spend a few more pounds (or dollars) and invest in an ergonomic office chair – they are  more affordable than you might think:

Orthpaedic Computer Chair

Click here for the Orthopaedic Computer Chair, it is a popular choice for call centre employees and deskbound sales staff who spend a lot of time in their seats.


Another office chair to consider and worth the investment is the Chiro Plus orthopedic chair - click here!

How long can you have off work with a bad back?

Note the Rainbow Zebra is keen for everyone to be as productive and efficient as possible but taking time off for a bad back may be required if the problem is particularly acute. A sympathetic boss is useful but unfortunately bad backs are hard for non-medical staff to assess, so be prepared to see a bad back osteopath/chiropractor to demonstrate you have a medical condition that causes you pain.

You may need to take time off work for your bad back but reserve that for the very worst days – especially as “bad back excuses” are quite common excuses skipping work!


The Health and Safety expert's viewpoint:

Health and Safety Expert - Maxine Weeks of the HS Dept, Bristol

We spoke with Maxine Matthews, Health and Safety expert over at the HS Dept about working with staff who mention they are suffering from back pain:

  • Employee complaining about back ache? Carry out a work station assessment.
  • Ensure their chair is correctly positioned, this will improve posture and reduce strain on their back.
  • Many workers have their computer screen too low, ensure the top of the screen is at eye level, this will reduce strain on neck.
  • Ensure all equipment used is in the correct location on the desk, for example mouse and keyboard are in the normal working area with items like coffee cup, stapler, telephone etc are in the zone of convenient reach as they should not be stretching to reach items they use frequently.
  • Ensure regular breaks from computer work are taken every hour as this will help reduce RSI.

If you are concerned about the health and safety requirements of your office then check out the HS Dept (click on their logo below):

The Health and Safety Dept



The Rainbow Zebra’s own 3 top tips for dealing with a bad back are:

  • Take it easy, but do keep active and moving without forcing yourself to twist, bend or lift anything.
  • Propping your legs up with pillows whilst lying down (for the Zebra 3 pillows works best) can help relieve back pain.
  • Find yourself a good chiropractor to help manage back pain levels – check out the official British Chiropractic Organisation's website:

3 Workout Videos for Bad Backs

If you’re wondering what exercises you should be doing for your bad back, we’ve scouted around for what we consider the most entertaining workout videos – please note before starting any exercise you should consult with a doctor first to ensure you do not do further damage to your back.




By the way we think Brett’s just great! :)

Please note our listing of these bad back pain exercise videos does not endorse any of these techniques, so please consult your doctor before starting any exercise for combatting  lower or upper back pain.

Conclusion to the Zebra's Back Back Guide

If you have any tips on how you deal with back pain, especially when you're at work, please do share in the comments section below. Our readers would love to have the benefit of your expertise!


Further reading:

Posted by Paul Randall
10th June 2013