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Ergonomics and Degenerative Disc Disease

Peer Reviewed

For people with degenerative disc disease, working can be rough. Sitting for long periods of time at a desk can aggravate your back, as can heavy manual labor. But just because the work day is rough doesn't mean that it's impossible to work with degenerative disc disease. To do it, you need to think about ergonomics.

Ergonomics looks at how we work and what the environment is like where we work. It's a scientific discipline that studies how to make work less painful. (That's a simplified explanation of ergonomics, but it works.)

So if you have DDD, what can you do to make it through a hard day's work? For starters, keep in mind these general principles…

Office Workers
This article on finding a good ergonomic chair should help you. There isn't a one-size-fits-all ergonomic chair, so you'll need to experiment to find what works best for you and your particular pain.

Just because you have a desk doesn't mean that you have to be at it all day. Sitting in one position all day—and it doesn't matter how ergonomically friendly your chair is—will aggravate your back pain. Your muscles will grow tense and tight if you stay in the same position. Be sure to switch positions frequently, and you should even think about taking walking breaks to get up and about.

Even with the best chair, if you spend your work day hunched over with your elbows on your desk, your back will hurt. Position your keyboard and computer in a way that encourages you to sit up properly.

  • The keyboard should tilt down and a bit away from you; that'll keep your wrists, arms, and shoulders well-positioned.
  • The computer should be directly in front of you at eye level—not off to the side or so low that you have to adjust your head position to see it.

Outside the Office Workers (Especially Heavy Labor)
If your day doesn't involve sitting at a desk, you still should be thinking about ergonomics. Whether you're a truck driver, construction worker, landscaper, or factory worker, you'll need to talk to your doctor about how degenerative disc disease could affect your work life. Only someone familiar with your pain, symptoms, and specific job requirements can help you figure out what you can and can't do.

Generally, though, you should avoid heavy lifting, twisting, and sudden movements because any one of those could exacerbate your back pain.

Updated on: 09/07/12
Jason M. Highsmith, MD
This article was reviewed by Jason M. Highsmith, MD.
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