In this post, I’ll break down just what microbreaks are, and how they can help with alleviating back pain.

Most of us know that sitting for a long time isn’t exactly conducive for our backs. According to Cornell University, compared to standing, the seated position applies up to 90% more pressure on the spine. However, even for a lot of people that suffer from back pain, the idea of standing to work periodically just isn’t appealing, or even feasible. For those people, microbreaks is worth looking into.

In this post, I’ll break down just what microbreaks are, and how they can help with alleviating back pain.


What’s Considered a Microbreak?

Microbreaks are essentially mini workouts that last up to 5 minutes. The ideal microbreak should be more than just a bathroom break or a trip to the water dispenser. It should be 60 seconds or longer of decompression, an opportunity to move and stretch, and a time to get your blood and spinal fluid to reach your postural muscles and disks to give them nourishment


How Do Microbreaks Prevent Back Pain?

To better understand how mobilizing yourself every now and then can prevent back pain, let me tell you what happens to the back during prolonged sitting.

When you’re sitting for long periods of time, your postural muscles, including your core, become dormant. Because of the muscle imbalance, your back muscles have to work harder to support your upper body. This not only strains your back muscles, but makes it easy to slouch as well to compensate, which can lead to postural problems. The spine’s connective tissues get overstretched too.

To make it worse, when the discs are compressed, they do a poor job of preventing the bony vertebrae from rubbing against each other, causing premature degeneration. Plus, the discs may go out of position or start squeezing the sciatic nerve.

In other words, it’s a miracle if you don’t get back pain from sitting for a long time.

The right microbreaks can help stimulate your underutilized postural muscles while giving your back muscles some reprieve, by decompressing your spine. And just a few minutes can make a big difference.

By periodically taking small breaks from sitting, you encourage better blood flow so it can nourish and repair your spine’s connective tissues and back muscles. The same goes for your spinal disks and their lubricant, the cerebrospinal fluid.


The Benefits of Microbreaks for Back Pain

Microbreaks actually offers a wide range of benefits, though here are a few studies that specifically attest to the effectiveness of microbreaks for back pain.

A 2001 study showed that microbreaks were able to reduce discomfort in the neck, shoulders, lower back, and hands of people who do computer work. The results were even better for those who took breaks at 20-minute intervals instead of 40.

A more recent study on intraoperative microbreaks with exercises for surgeons clearly showed its benefits. At the end of the study, up to 87% of the participating surgeons requested that microbreaks be incorporated into their OR routine. Those that underwent the study reported significant improvements in pain relief, especially in the back and shoulder areas. It also improved their mental focus while not significantly increasing surgery time.time. This means that adding mini workouts to your work routine can effectively mitigate your back pain without affecting your productivity.


What Are Some Microbreak Exercises for Back Pain?

When it comes to back pain, the best type of micro breaks are those that involve stretching and moving, specially the back area. Here are 3 exercises to try:

Overhead Stretch

What It Does: Gives the spine, shoulders, lats, chest, forearms, and triceps a gentle stretch.

  • Stand straight with your feet shoulder width apart.
  • Raise your arms overhead with your elbows straight.
  • Interlace your fingers with your palms facing upward.
  • Raise your arms upwards while keeping your shoulders down.
  • Hold for 5 seconds

Do at least 5 sets of this during each break.


Child’s Pose

What It Does: Decompresses the spine. Relieves back and neck pain. Stretches the hips, thighs, and ankles.

  • Kneel on the floor with your toes together.
  • Keep your knees hip-width apart.
  • Rest your buttocks on your heels.
  • Exhale and lower down your torso between your knees.
  • Try to touch the floor with your forehead.
  • Keep your arms beside your thighs, palms facing up.
  • Take steady, even breaths.
  • Hold for as long as you like.

Do at least 5 sets of this during each break.


Seated Lower Back Rotational Stretches

What It Does: Relieves back pain. Stimulates the core muscles. Strengthens the lower back.

  • Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
  • Place your right hand on your left knee.
  • With your back straight, gently twist to the left.
  • Hold for 10 seconds.
  • Do the same for the other side.
  • Repeat 3 times on each side.

Do at least 5 sets of this during each break.

Here are some other desk stretches for the back if you need more ideas.

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