Does your job require you to be seated at a desk for extended periods of time?
For millions of people, an average workday means sitting at a desk and computer for eight or more hours. This type of seated work can lead to musculoskeletal problems such as back pain, neck and shoulder pain, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other related medical problems.
In Great Britain, the biggest reason for employee absenteeism and taking time off sick is musculoskeletal injury, especially back pain. This leads to loss of productivity and can cost companies a lot of money.
According to an ONS Study, around 469,000 workers were reported suffering from musculoskeletal injuries in 2018, with 140 million working days being lost due to sickness, equating to 4.4 days per employee. Physical health issues can further cause an increased risk of developing mental health problems. In 2019, mental health problems at work cost the UK economy around £34.9 billion, equating to £1,300 per employee.
To prevent chronic health issues and enhance the wellbeing of the employees, a large number of companies are taking a proactive approach. They are providing alternatives to the normal office desk setup and implementing healthy workplace habits that improve the posture at work through ergonomic principles.
Poor posture is the most common reason for neck and back pain and repetitive strain injury and can reduce a person’s quality and ability to do their job.
Various studies have found strong correlations between sitting at a desk and chronic back pain. Regardless of how much exercise you do, sitting can still put you at risk of disease.
Here are several reasons why desk work causes musculoskeletal injuries:
- The longer you stay seated, the more your spine gets misaligned.
- Poor workstation set-up causes strain in the neck if computer monitors aren’t at eye level.
- Wrong postures like crossing your ankles and legs cause hip misalignment.
- Lack of movement limits the blood circulation and nutrient flow to spinal discs.
- Prolonged sitting can put pressure on your spinal discs, resulting in back pain and strain injuries.
Though desk work is strongly linked to back and neck pain, there are ways to ease long-term damage and disease by adopting a good posture while at work.
Tips for Healthier Work Ergonomics
To prevent health issues associated with desk work, it is essential to practice healthier work ergonomics.
The term ergonomics generally refers to the attempt of fitting your job to your body. This helps to reduce back pain, fatigue, and strain injuries by improving desk design, computer equipment, and workspace arrangements, such as properly positing your chair, keyboard, and monitor.
Here are some good posture tips that can help you reduce musculoskeletal injuries and improve whole-body health.
1. Follow Neutral Posture
Neutral posture is the spine’s natural alignment position that’s completely straight from head to toe. When the spine’s natural alignment is not practiced such as from slouching, hunching, or injury, it can cause spinal compression, back pain, and musculoskeletal injuries.
Here are some tips on how a neutral posture at work can be achieved:
- Keep the top of your computer monitor at the eye level so that your head doesn’t tilt.
- Pull your shoulders back so that they should be relaxed and low, not high, and hunched up. Keep your back straight against the chair.
- Keep your lower arms equivalent to the floor. They should rest on support and reach out to your keyboard and mouse easily, rather than being held up.
- Do not cross your ankles or legs, rest your feet flat on the ground.
- Keep the upper back straight and prevent slouching. Your lower back should be supported by your chair and hips should be as close to the back of the chair as possible.
- You shouldn’t be inclined to rest on one arm, as this causes your spine to curve.
By following a neutral posture at work, you can greatly reduce your chance of strain injury and developing back pain.
2. Monitor Your Back and Neck Pain
In order to prevent spine problems, it’s important to bring awareness to your daily wellbeing. Keep an eye on your ongoing symptoms such as stiffness, back pain, soreness and shoulders, neck, and back pain. Make daily notes as to when symptoms arise, this can help you in finding out the reason in your work routines that may be contributing to the pain.
With this evaluation, you may begin to notice when your pain is worse on certain days or at certain times of the day. This helps you to adjust your body posture at work and consciously prevent back pain.
3. Set Reminders and Take Regular Movement Breaks
To reduce the health risks of sitting work, it is important to take scheduled breaks and perform good posture exercises throughout the day. Move after every half hour and take a quick walk around the office. Stretching overhead and opening up your chest and back reduce slouching. Take time to organize your workspace in an ergonomically correct way.
Research has found that the desk workers who have high back pain can reduce symptoms by taking regular movement breaks every 30 minutes and can counteract the health risks posed by sitting.
4. Take Ergonomic Supports
Obtaining a neutral posture while sitting at a desk can be tough. Poor posture habits make it hard to get the body in perfect alignment. But there are certain support products available that help to attain neutral posture and build better ergonomic habits.
Using the right office chair is one of the most important products to promote proper sitting posture at work. There are many adjustable ergonomic office chairs with built-in headrests and lumbar support for better spine alignment. Other work or office ergonomic support products include office footrests and accessories like monitor arms and keyboard trays.
Another option is an adjustable desk that switches from sitting to standing easily is the “sit-stand” desk. One study found that using a sit-stand desk reduced the employees sitting time by over an hour per day and decreased upper back and neck pain by 54% while improving overall health.
5. Set-up an Ergonomic Workstation
To feel good and active at work, it is important to create an ergonomic workstation. Using the above tips and support products, you can set-up an adjustable workstation that’s designed to fit you.
Take the below points into consideration:
- Encourage a full range of movement.
- Keep the most used items within arm’s reach.
- Allowing enough legroom and foot placement
- Improve hunched posture
Adopting an ergonomic workstation should make your body fit and healthy. One can easily build the perfect adjustable workstation by using workplace ergonomic products – that helps to maintain a neutral position much of the day.
As an Ergonomist and Blogger, I commonly write and talk about Workplace Ergonomics Principles and Online Workstation Assessments at Posture Group. I develop and create a detailed Workplace Ergonomic Risk Assessment and advice service for our clients that help them to train and assess their employees in a smarter, more efficient, and straightforward way.