Staying active and looking after your posture is difficult at the best of times. Due to lockdown restrictions, most people have been forced to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle.
Gyms have closed and incidental movement is reduced, which can have a detrimental effect on musculoskeletal pain and injury.
The impact of musculoskeletal disorders is particularly apparent in the office environment due to the substantial impact on annual injury cost and reduced overall productivity.
The prevalence of lower back pain amongst bankers is as high as 52.4% and reportedly impacts the performance of daily activities. This highlights the importance of implementing suitable prevention strategies.
After periods of inactivity and static positions, muscles can build tension. Joints can lose mobility, resulting in slumped body postures.
Simple changes to the workstation and maintaining an active lifestyle can greatly reduce musculoskeletal problems and provide long term mental and physical health benefits.
Shariat et al evaluated the combination of desk-based exercises and ergonomic modification on pain scores in office workers with neck, shoulders, and lower back pain.
Once workstations had been appropriately set-up, office workers who spent 15 minutes per day performing exercises were found to have significant improvements in all three musculoskeletal pain areas with the combination approach.
General advice for looking after your body
- Aim to perform 30 minutes of exercise per day. Try and include a mix of stretching, strengthening, and cardiovascular exercise to keep all areas of your body moving.
- Change positions regularly at your workstation. Try the 20:20:20 rule – every 20 minutes, stand up to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
- Perform mobility and stretching programs whilst at your workstation to break up long sitting periods.
Mobility excercise programs at the workstation
Desk-based stretches can be performed either as static holds or dynamic movements. The combination of the two are most effective in improving joint mobility and muscular health.
Neck stretch examples
- Shoulder rolls: Roll shoulders in circular motion forwards and backwards. Aim to create large circles as close to the ears as possible. Perform for 20 seconds.
- Upper Trapezius Stretch: With one hand, reach over and hold the top of your head above the opposite ear. Gently pull the head to the side until you feel a stretch. Perform on each side for 20 seconds.
Mid-back stretch examples
- Thoracic Rotation: Whilst sitting, twist to one side, and using your hands, hold onto the armrests or the backrests, performing a self-hold stretch. Perform on each side for 20 seconds.
- Thoracic Extension: Place both hands on your head, inhale deeply, then extend back to look upwards and backwards towards the roof. Exhale, and return to the starting position. Perform 5 times.
Lower back stretch examples
- Lumbar & Gluteal Stretch: Cross one leg over the other, so that your ankle is resting on top of the opposite knee. Gently lower yourself towards the knee. Perform on each side for 20 seconds.
- Standing Extension: Standing up, place hands on hips, inhale deeply, then extend backwards to look upwards and backwards towards the roof. Exhale, and return to the starting position. Perform 5 times.
Optimise your workstation ergonomics in four easy steps
- Ensure your chair is at the right height in relation to the desk level. Aim to keep your elbow level at or slightly above the height of the desk.
- Bring your keyboard and mouse to the very edge of the desk.
- Make sure your screen is an arms-length distance away.
- With your back against the backrest, make sure your eye level is within the top third of the screen. If required, use home equipment to boost the height of the screens.
Helpful tips for increasing general physical activity
- Try bodyweight home programs such as Yoga, Pilates or HIIT classes.
- Explore online fitness options such as YouTube & Phone-App workouts.
- Increase incidental exercise (e.g., walk instead of drive, take the stairs instead of the lift, move around when on work calls).
- Create an exercise timetable or add a time into your diary/calendar for an extra reminder.
To effectively limit the impact of musculoskeletal pain in desk workers, long-term strategies need to be employed. This includes lifestyle changes that promote movement and empower individuals to make changes at their workstations.
Regular exercise and ergonomic correction are tools that every employee can use to help create a healthy working environment, avoid injury and maintain work productivity.
Brakenridge, C, Chong, Y, Winkler, E, Hadgraft, N, Fjeldsoe, B, Johnston, V, Straker, L, Healy, G & Clark, B (2018). Evaluating Short-Term Musculoskeletal Pain Changes in Desk-Based Workers Receiving a Workplace Sitting-Reduction Intervention. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 5(9), 1975.
Bontrup, C, Taylor, W, Fliesser, M, Visscher, R, Green, T, Wippet, P & Zemp, R (2019). ‘Low back pain and its relationship with sitting behaviour among sedentary office workers’, Applied Ergonomics, vol 81, pp 1-8.
Memari, A, Shariat, A & Anastasio, A 2020, ‘Rising Incidence of musculosketetal disorders in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis’, Work, vol 66, no. 4, pp. 751-753.
Tauqeer, S, Amjad, F, Ahmed A & Gillani S (2018). Prevalence of low back pain among bankers of Lahore, Pakistan, Khyber Medical University Journal, vol 10(2), pp 101-104.
Shariat, A, Cleland, J, Danaee, M, Kargarfard, M, Sangelaji, B, Bahri, S & Tamrin, M. (2018). Effects of stretching exercise training and ergonomic modifications on musculoskeletal discomforts of office workers: a randomized controlled trial. Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy. Vol 22(2), 144-153.