At PhysioActive a very large percentage of our clients present with musculoskeletal injuries. This includes neck- and shoulder pain, lower back pain, headaches and elbow and/or wrist pain as the result of work related injury.

Common patterns of complaint are morning stiffness for 15-30mins after getting out of bed and progressive muscle tension towards the end of the day. Rest usually alleviates pain and muscle tension. Common causes of such complaints can be divided into external factors (ergonomics) and internal factors (condition of one’s own).

Risk Factors

External Factors

  • Poor working posture
  • Prolonged sitting in front of the computer, worse if using a laptop
  • Excessive use of a computer mouse
  • Poor workstation equipment (non-adjustable desk, cheap chairs etc.)
  • Cold work environment

Internal Factors

  • Poor working posture
  • Muscle weakness (core muscles)
  • Being overweight
  • General deconditioning
  • Stress
  • Poor sleeping habits
  • Lack of insight into work ergonomics and prevention

Usually it is a combination of external and internal factors leading to health problems. But how exactly can these factors lead to pain? What is the mechanism behind it? This can be very easily explained with the help of the ‘Load and load capacity model’.

Poor Posture At Work

Every human being has a certain load capacity, physically and emotionally. If the daily load (sitting, typing, stress etc.) exceeds the load capacity, then we overload our body, e.g. resulting in back- or neck pain. Muscles have to work too much and get exhausted resulting in muscle spasm and pain. Joints get chronically overloaded resulting in joint pain. This will lead to further compensation mechanisms creating even more tissue pain. This is a vicious circle which is almost impossible to escape without professional help.

So depending on the level of external- and internal factors the pain can vary in intensity. The usual pattern seen in our clinic are patients complaining about spinal problems on and off for years. And there lies the risk of severe and chronic degenerative changes of the spine, called Spondylosis. This is a non-reversible condition and depending on the severity, patients may require surgery. That’s why it is so important to start with prevention and take action before chronic symptoms set in.

What Can I Do To Prevent Back Pain At Work?

Whilst some organisations undertake a formal corporate ergonomics programme, there are several easy steps to take yourself. Serving to reduce symptoms at work or even prevent them from occurring altogether. Including:

Posture

Posture At WorkThe preferred sitting posture is obviously an upright neutral position with a good lumbar support as shown in the diagram. Shoulders should be slightly pulled back and the head should not be shifted forward. This maintains the natural curve of the spine and prevents excessive loading of the lower back. However, to keep this posture, the back muscles (core muscles) need to be active and if not trained people experience muscle ache already after a few minutes in this position. Therefore achieving comfort in this position is a gradual training process.

Important note!
No matter how perfect you sit the human body is not able to maintain only one position for hours. One sided loading will fatigue the spinal muscles and overload the joints, thus leading to back pain. Hence regular changes of your posture are the solution. You may even sit slouched for a while as long as it is not for the whole day!

Workstation Set-Up

In order to be able to sit with the above posture, your work place equipment needs to be adjustable to your height. The position of the screen should be always at eye level and straight in front of you to avoid continued downward/upward or side movement.

Mini Rest Breaks

You should take regular breaks from your desk every 30 minutes – take the time to walk around or do workplace exercises and stretches.

Work Place Exercises

There are very easy exercises which you can do in a sitting or standing position. At PhysioActive we can show you a number of exercises to keep the spine and the muscle flexible to prevent stiffness and tension.

Prevention

Having strong core muscles to support your back is the most important issue in preventing (and reducing) back pain. A regular program of 20mins 3 times a week is already sufficient to get strong core muscles. Having an optimal work place set-up and progressively changing your posture habits will make back pain vanish from your work!


If you’re suffering from a workplace or desk related injury, please click to find out more about the available physiotherapy treatments. Alternatively, get in touch with your local PhysioActive clinic to arrange an appointment.

Thanks for reading!

This post has been written by PhysioActive director Denis Mecklenburg B.Sc. – Physiotherapist, Sports Therapist, Golf Therapist.

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