Life Can Be a Pain in the Neck (or Back): Dr. Evan Johnson Talks about the Role Posture Plays in Spine Health

Jun. 10, 2016

Columbia-SpineCenterEvan584x340The Jewish Community Center of the Upper West Side has been presenting a lecture series on health issues, including stroke, headaches and Alzheimer disease. When it came time to talk about spine health, the JCC turned to Evan Johnson, DPT, director of physical therapy at the Spine Hospital at the Neurological Institute of New York.

Lower back pain is a huge problem. According to Dr. Johnson it is the fifth most common reason for doctor visits in the United States. In fact, one fourth of all adults in the U.S. report having lower back pain lasting at least one whole day in the last three months, he said.

But there are steps everyone can take to improve spine health and keep some types of lower back pain at bay, and this was the topic of Dr. Johnson’s talk.

Dr. Johnson explained that sometimes lower back pain is caused by an injury, or an underlying disease or structural problem. Sometimes, however, doctors can’t find a specific reason for the pain. This is called nonspecific lower back pain.

One reason people develop nonspecific lower back pain, he said, is because people spend a lot of time in activities that promote bad posture. He cited a British study done in 2013 that said adults in almost all age groups spend as much time in front of a PC, laptop or tablet screen as they do sleeping. And that doesn’t even count time spent in front of a TV.

When people look at a screen they tend to slump or hunch over in bad posture. This creates strain on the supporting structures of the spine. Strain on these support structures can lead to low back pain. Good posture, on the other hand, aligns the spine and minimizes stress on soft tissue and joints, reducing pain.

Dr. Johnson talked about how taking short rest breaks can provide relief to people who sit in front of screens for much of the day. He recommended taking “micro-breaks” every 15 minutes—just a quick 30-second stretch.

If you’ve been hunched over with bad posture, a quick stretch break will help alleviate the strain on your spine. As an added bonus, looking away from the computer screen briefly will reduce eyestrain.

In addition to micro-breaks, he recommended taking a longer screen break every hour to stand up, move around, get some exercise or perform some non-screen task.

He also discussed the importance of using chairs and office furniture that support good posture and offered some tips on how to lift heavy objects while protecting the spine.

Read more about Dr. Johnson’s advice on posture and spine health:

Read more about Dr. Johnson at his bio page here.

Click here to return to The Spine Hospital at The Neurological Institute of New York.

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