Ergonomics expert gives 5 tips to tackle the common problem
The modern workplace is driven by technology, with employees largely dealing with emails and a suite of office programmes, rather than more physically active jobs. This has led to a huge increase in musculoskeletal complaints, with one of the most popular being lower back pain.
According to Alan McDonald, MD of Humanscale, which produces ergonomic products for the workplace, typical office workers spend more time sitting in their chair than anywhere else and it is estimated over half of computer users go about their daily work with at least one form of related discomfort.
An expert with over 17 years in the field of office interiors and furniture solutions, McDonald gives some simple preventative adjustments to your daily work routine that can help prevent back pain, which can develop into more serious long-term health issues.
Ponder your posture
While sitting for most of the day may not be the ideal situation for your body, slouching for extended periods can also seriously affect your quality of life. Having an ergonomically-designed chair is an important step for improving your posture, but there are many other elements that can also help. For instance, trunk flexion when leaning forward is one of the leading causes of lower back pain. The seat should be adjusted so thighs are parallel to the floor and lumbar support should be provided for the small of the back. The height of armrests should not exceed your seated elbow height and you should be sitting so elbows are parallel to desk height. A footrest may help support the lower body and the top third of the monitor screen should sit at eye level for spinal alignment.
One of the simplest behaviours to remember is to keep your head up. If you are constantly looking at your phone on the desk, then find applications (such as Whatsapp) to transfer the program to one of your desktop screens. Focus on aligning your head and neck straight across to your screen. Sitting cross-legged is a bad habit that can be easily stopped to prevent overstretching the muscles around the pelvis, keep your spine straighter and shoulders more square.
Modify repetitive tasks
Most have different routines at work, so it’s up to you to identify potentially harmful repetitive tasks that can be easily modified to prevent issues developing over time. For instance, if you frequently talk on the phone and type or write at the same time, place your phone on speaker or use a headset. One of the worst repetitive actions is cradling the phone between your shoulder and ear while typing. Holding up your smartphone with the same hand all day is another, where stress on one side of your neck and arm can be alleviated by simply trying to use your other hand as much as possible.
Arrange workstation correctly
In the industry, it is widely believed hunching over a computer is a leading reason, as many as four-in-five people end up with crippling back pain at some point in their lives. When it comes to positioning your screen, a common yardstick is to place your computer screen between 20-26 inches from your eyes. Your torso should be about an arm’s length away from the monitor, which should be 2 to 3 inches above eye level. Keep your feet flat on the floor, or on a rest, and shoulder-width apart to reduce tension in your knees and ankles. Back pain is especially common when you use a laptop as your primary computer, as you are more likely to lean forward to reach keys or see the screen. One of the best ways to address this is to attach a separate monitor and keyboard. The mouse or trackpad should be placed right next to your keyboard so you don’t overreach or twist your shoulder, arm or wrist when clicking.
Connect with your own body
It may sound a little ‘zen’, but it’s important to be aware of your own body and listen for any warning signals. If you can pick up on potential issues early, you can often prevent more serious problems in the future. For instance, you might feel a general stiffness in your back, which can be a predecessor of lower back pain. If this symptom is a potential consequence of sitting still for prolonged periods, then make an effort to change your position more often. You could give yourself reasons to periodically walk around and gently stretch your muscles to relieve tension, such as drinking a glass of water every hour, which is also good for your health.
Switching between seated and standing throughout the day is not only good for energy and productivity, but for overall health. Researchers suggest standing for 15 minutes every hour boosts circulation, takes pressure off the spine and balances muscle use. Mayo Clinic claims alternating between sitting and standing postures is also good for our waistlines, finding it is possible to burn a much as 320 additional calories every day.
Only a few years ago there was the standing-desk trend when experts claimed you could get fitter and reduce the chance of back pain and sedentary lifestyle-related illness while you work by using a standing desk, designed to allow you to work upright all day. However, this is no longer regarded as the solution, with subsequent studies discovering remaining still all day, regardless of whether sitting or standing, is the main behaviour that negatively impacts our health.
By investing in a workspace where you can easily alternate between sitting and standing, you can keep moving while at work, adjusting your position in a way that benefits your body. People might be able to design or adapt their existing situations, but for those who can’t, we have developed advanced sit/stand workstations to easily facilitate this way of working and massively reduce the chance of developing back issues.
For information on a flexible work-space, go to