In Part 1 of our Office Workers series we are going to explore some of the latest research into muscular pain in office workers and the strategies you can use to relieve muscular pain in an office setting.
Please note that if you are currently suffering from muscular aches and pains please contact us or see a qualified health professional prior to undertaking any exercises or changes to your workstation. The strategies discussed in this blog may not be suitable for everyone depending on your symptoms.
That dreaded time of year is upon us. With plenty of work to be completed, and deadlines to meet how much time are you spending battling away at your desk or in front of your computer screen? Let's not forget that once you leave work feeling tired and sore, at the best of times this pain doesn't necessarily go away when you get home. You take the pain home with you to your loved ones and families.
What's the big deal?
Adults spend an average of 40hrs per week peforming sedentary activity.
Those working in clerical or administrative roles were the most sedentary occupation group with 64% spending at least three-quarters of their time at work sitting.
High income earners spend almost 51hrs per week in sedentary activity compared to the average of 40hrs for other income groups.
A survey conducted on 1428 office workers found that up to 63% of these office workers have musculoskeletal pain due to the nature of their sedentary work.
According to Safe Work Australia, the total economic cost of work-related injuries and illnesses is estimated to be $60 billion dollars. Recent research has shown that lower back pain is the world’s most common work-related disability .
Prolonged sitting has been associated with heart disease and type II diabetes.
At risk of an early death! Office workers who sit for more than 11hrs/day have a 40% likelihood to die 3 years earlier than those who sit for less than 4hrs/day.
Is this you?
You may start the day feeling fresh if you're lucky; sitting upright, chair adjusted and eager to type away. Have you ever noticed that by the end of the day, your hunched at the shoulders and your head has inched closer and closer to the screen?
(How many of you end the day like this?)
In this position, your strong back extensor muscles are stretched and at their weakest, putting more pressure on the joints, ligaments and discs of your spine. The upper neck muscles (suboccipital muscles) become short and tight compressing the joints in the upper cervicial vertebrae (C0-C3) which are often responsible for cervicogenic headaches. Due to the poked head position your shoulder and upper back muscles then have to work harder and can then become painful and stiff.
What can you do?
1. Get Up!
Positive benefits have been demonstrated simply by having regular changes of position. In a study conducted in 2014, the authors looked at the impact of postural changes as to whether it can reduce musculoskeletal discomfort in call centre workers. By implementing sit-stand desks, reminder software (to take breaks) with normal desks and reminder software with a sit-stand desk over 2 weeks, they found been found significant reductions in the shoulders upper back and lower back muscles, with minimal changes to a worker's productivity. They concluded that posture changes throughout the working day is beneficial for muscular discomfort without a significant impact on productivity.
Practically speaking: Though it may not be feasible to afford a stand-up desk for every employee, or to have access to the latest reminder software, we all have a mobile phone. with a timer that can be set to vibrate every 30mins-60mins, reminding you to get up or change your position!
2. An Ergonomically Designed Workstation
We've all heard of the term, but what does having an ergonomic workstation actually mean? 'Ergonomics' refers to the science in designing and arranging objects and spaces that people use so that they both interact with the most efficiency and safely. Having an ergonomically designed workstation will ensure your muscles, joints and postures are at their most efficient, with the lowest risk of injury for the given task.
A multitude of studies have reported on the positive effects of having an ergonomically designed workstation on muscular pain and discomfort alone. These benefits are seemingly accumulative in combination with other strategies e.g. rest breaks and exercise.
3. Regular Exercise
There continues to be a growing body of evidence promoting the health benefits of exercise amongst sedentary workers. Published earlier this year, a recent study investigated the effects of an exercise program performed 3 times a week with 40 office workers. They measured pain in the neck, shoulders and lower back using the Cornell Musculoskeletal Discomfort Questionnaire. After 11 weeks of training they found that there were significant increases in range of motion in the hips, neck, knees and shoulders in the exercise group. They also showed significant improvements in neck, shoulder and lower back pain compared to the control group who performed no exercise over the 11 weeks.
Another study conducted in 2016 specifically looked into the effectiveness of a neck and shoulder stretching exercise program in office workers with neck pain. 96 subjects with moderate to severe neck pain (5/10 pain score) over the last 3 months (chronic neck pain) were provided with ergonomic information via a brochure for them to independently use to set up their workstations. The treatment group received additional instructions to perform neck and shoulder stretches 2 times a day, 5 days a week for 4 weeks.
At the end of the 4 weeks all outcomes had improved including pain, neck function and quality of life, however the stretching group achieving greater improvements than the non-exercise group. Those who exercised more than 3 times a week as recommended showed even greater improvements!
In those with chronic moderate to severe neck pain, regular stretching can be shown to improve neck function, quality of life and reduce neck and shoulder pain after 4 weeks.
The take home messages for the office warriors:
Regular changes in position throughout the day has been proven to relieve muscular pain with minimal impact on workplace productivity
Having an ergonomically designed workstation alone can improve pain, neck function and quality of life.
Regular exercise at least 3 times a week can have improvements in pain, discomfort, flexibility and most importantly, your quality of life.
On the next episode:
Office Workers: The Science of Sitting - When Sit Happens (Part 2 of 3), we'll discuss all things ergonomics and the simple ways to set up your desk for your needs!
If you require an Ergonomic Workstation Assessment or if you have any questions in regards to this article, please feel free to contact us here
References (includes links to abstract of articles)
Australian Government 2011-2012, Australian Health Survey: Physical Activity
Fenety A, Walker JM. Short-term effects of workstation exercises on musculoskeletal discomfort and postural changes in seated video display unit workers. Phys Ther. (2002) Jun; 82 (6): 578-89.
Janwantanakul P1, Pensri P, Jiamjarasrangsri V, Sinsongsook T. Prevalence of self-reported musculoskeletal symptoms among office workers. (2008) Occup Med; 58 (6):436-8
Mehrparvar AH, Heydari M, Mirmohammadi SJ, Mostaghaci M, Davari MH, Taheri M. Ergonomic intervention, workplace exercises and musculoskeletal complaints: a comparative study. Med J (2014) 16; 28:69