It is no secret that too much sitting down isn’t good for your health. And with over 80% of UK office workers spending 4-9 hours per day sitting at their desk, the consequences of a sedentary job can be very serious indeed. It is claimed that sitting is the new smoking, with too much of it increasing our risk of chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Work related musculoskeletal problems range from muscle strains in the back, neck and shoulders to carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive strain injury and more. Sitting hunched over a computer, staring at a monitor all day can wreak havoc on the body over time. So, other than a drastic career change that allows you to lead a more active lifestyle, what can you realistically do?
This is where office ergonomics can play an important part. “By making the right adjustments to your work environment, along with some simple stretches you can do at work, it is possible to significantly reduce the daily discomfort that most office workers have to put up with,” explains DSE workstation assessor and specialist physiotherapist Tom Quantrell, Physioteq.
What’s more, a recent study found that ergonomic workstations not only reduce musculoskeletal and vision problems, but boost job satisfaction and happiness among employees. For businesses, this translates into reduced sick leave, greater staff productivity and retention. It’s a win/win all round!
Here are some practical suggestions about how you can deal with five of the most common desk job dangers:
- Lower back pain
The most common work related back problem is lower back pain, which can range from the odd twinge to chronic aches and pains. A poor sitting posture means that your spine is out of alignment, putting additional strain on the ligaments and muscles in your back.
Quick Fix: To loosen tight back muscles when you’re sitting down, tilt your hips up and round your back, then tilt your hips back. Repeat a few times.
Long Term Fix: Get an ergonomic office chair with proper lumbar support. The length of your back should be against the back of the chair to help you sit upright. Your feet should be resting flat on the floor with your thighs parallel to the ground. Use a foot rest if necessary, to achieve the right posture.d
If you go to the gym regularly, build abdominal exercises into your routine 2-3 times a week to strengthen your core to support your back and maintain good posture.
- Wrist strain
Keyboard warriors beware – spending long hours pounding away at the keyboard can cause serious health issues. It’s the combination of overuse and wrong wrist positioning that are to blame here. The repetitive motion causes fatigue and inflammation of the tendons in your wrist, while poor sitting posture can cause wrist soreness, a tingling sensation or numbness.
Quick Fix: Perform a ‘prayer stretch’ as per the picture below. Place your fingers and palm together with your hands in front of your chest, with fingers pointing upwards, then lower your hands until you feel a stretch in your wrists. Hold for 5 seconds.d
Source: Nordic Needle
Long-Term Fix: Hold your wrists naturally when using the keyboard or mouse, so they are not higher than your hands or resting on the desk. A wrist support is a good idea, as is taking regular breaks from computer work throughout the day.
- Neck and Shoulder Pain
Aches and pains in your neck and shoulder may come from placing your keyboard and monitor too far away on the desk. This will cause you to jut your neck and shoulder forwards, so they are out of alignment with your spine and straining the muscles and soft tissue.
Quick Fix: Stand or sit upright with a straight spine and do chin tuck exercises aka neck retractions to release any tension. Push your head forward and jut your chin out, then slowly reverse the movement and pull your head back as far as possible. Repeat four times.
For immediate neck and shoulder relief, perform neck side bends, by tilting your right ear down towards your right shoulder, with your left arm hanging down to increase the stretch. Hold for up to a minute, then repeat on the other side. Repeat four times.
Long Term Fix: Make sure that your display screen is positioned directly in front of you, not placed at an angle, which would force your neck in to an unnatural position. Use a headset for frequent telephone work rather than cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder. Invest in an office chair with adjustable arm rests so that your elbows form a 90 degree angle, to take the tension of your shoulders.
Another thing that you can try to improve your posture is a posture corrector. This is a wearable that, essentially, pulls your shoulders back where they are supposed to be. Here are a bunch of braces to start with.
- Eye Strain
Too much staring into your computer isn’t good for you. Eye strain is the result of monitor overuse, especially if the screen is positioned too far back on the desk, or too close to you. What’s more, people blink less when concentrating on what’s on the screen, leading to dry, strained eyes.
Quick Fix: Give your eyes a screen break every 20-30 minutes by focusing on something far away – looking out of the window, for instance. Better still, get up from your chair and put the kettle on, have a comfort break or a chat with a colleague.
Long Term Fix: Have a DSE (display screen equipment) assessment carried out and position your computer monitor optimally. It should be 20-40 inches straight in front of you, with the top of the monitor roughly positioned at eye level. Place a filter over the monitor to reduce glare, if necessary.
Have regular eye tests and, if you need corrective lenses, check that you have the right prescription for working with computers – neither reading or distance glasses are the right solution here.
- Tight Hips
With your legs in a seated position all day – at work, in the car, sitting in front of the TV – your hip flexors (a group of muscles at the front of your hips) will become shorter over time. Tighter hip flexors can be painful, and also contribute to lower back pain.
Quick Fix: Do periodic stretches to release tight hip flexors. Go down on one knee and place the other foot forward with the knee bent 90 degrees. Shift your pelvis forward and ben the front knee, tucking your bottom under until you feel a deep stretch in the hip. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other leg. Here’s a video to demonstrate:
Long Term Fix: Get up from your desk at regular intervals to give your muscles a break, release your hips and increase circulation. Make a point of moving every 30 minutes or so, and at least once an hour.