Do you often wonder why your lower back hurts, you have tension in your shoulders or why your neck is starting to ache? Have you started getting headaches and are struggling to focus as a result? On a daily basis, hard-working desk-based individuals are suffering from back pain, stiff joints or headaches, finding them difficult to budge. You are not alone; these numbers are rapidly growing and even workplace ergonomic assessments have not curtailed the rise.

So, what is happening?

How many people can you think of who have never once complained of a back ache? Around 80% of us will at some point suffer from spinal pain (1,2). There are a multitude of factors which can indicate your risk of back pain including type of occupation or work-style, posture, age, genetics and lifestyle (2).

Unfortunately, sitting at a desk or remaining sedentary for a full day’s work has no beneficial effects on our backs. Overtime, working at the desk results in a reduction in blood circulation to the spinal joints and muscles as well as dehydration and increased pressure within intervertebral discs. Subsequently as a result of these factors, muscles become shortened and tight with an overriding feeling of fatigue in your back.

Back pain itself accounts for around 50% of all work absences causing a large negative burden on the economy, quality of life and overall wellbeing (3,4). Nobody wants to take undesirable time off work, especially due to crippling back pain.

How can you reduce and stop work being a pain?

Correct your posture

Cumulative research has indicated that it is not necessarily the hours spent sitting at the desk that are the sole problem. Studies have determined the incidence of back pain is more so dependent upon varying degrees of posture at the desk. Sitting alone increases pressure upon spinal discs to over 150% (5,6,7).

Below are several simple alterations you can make to your daily sitting posture to help reduce unwanted pressure or tension through your spine, muscles and joints.

  • Head should be balanced, not leaning forwards.
  • Arms relaxed by your side
  • Forearms parallel to the desk
  • Sit back in the chair to ensure good back support
  • Screen approximately an arms’ length away from you
  • Top screen about eye level
  • Space behind the knee
  • Feet flat on the floor or on a foot-rest

Take regular breaks

The spine can withstand sitting for approximately 20 minutes prior to increased pressure absorption from the inter-vertebral discs. This is why we recommend posture breaks every 20-30 minutes. These breaks will aid in lengthening contracted muscles and trigger inactive muscles to switch on.

Seek professional advice

If you find that your back pain, headaches or shoulder tension are becoming more frequent despite making changes to your posture at the desk, it’s a good idea to get properly assessed by one of our team members. Recent empirical research has determined that osteopathic manipulative treatment as well as physical therapy is effective for chronic lower back pain (8,9). In addition to this, The National Institute of Clinical Evidence (NICE) Guidelines recommend manual therapy such as osteopathy for management lower back pain (10).

Dr Curtis is an osteopath who specialises in treating and managing a wide variety of different joint and muscular problems. So, if you find yourself struggling with the dreaded “Tech Neck” and feel the need for professional advice, get in touch with the clinic to arrange an appointment.

References

1. Shmagel, A., Foley, R., & Ibrahim, H. (2016). Epidemiology of chronic low back pain in US adults: data from the 2009–2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Arthritis care & research68(11), 1688-1694.

2. Maher, C., Underwood, M., & Buchbinder, R. (2017). Non-specific low back pain. The Lancet389(10070), 736-747.

3. Miedema, van der Molen, Kuijer, Koes, & Burdorf. (2013). Incidence of low back pain related occupational diseases in the Netherlands.

4. Driscoll et al. (2014). The global burden of occupationally related low back pain: estimates from the global burden of disease 2010 study.

5. Dankaerts, O’sullivan, Burnett, & Straker. (2006). Differences in sitting postures are associated with nonspecific chronic low back pain disorders when patients are subclassified.

6. Ognibene, G. T., Torres, W., von Eyben, R., & Horst, K. C. (2016). Impact of a sit-stand workstation on chronic low back pain: results of a randomized trial. Journal of occupational and environmental medicine58(3), 287-293.

7. Neuhaus, M., Eakin, E. G., Straker, L., Owen, N., Dunstan, D. W., Reid, N., & Healy, G. N. (2014). Reducing occupational sedentary time: a systematic review and meta‐analysis of evidence on activity‐permissive workstations. Obesity Reviews15(10), 822-838.

8. Franke, H., Franke, J. D., & Fryer, G. (2014). Osteopathic manipulative treatment for nonspecific low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC musculoskeletal disorders15(1), 286.

9. Paige, N. M., Miake-Lye, I. M., Booth, M. S., Beroes, J. M., Mardian, A. S., Dougherty, P., … & Shekelle, P. G. (2017). Association of spinal manipulative therapy with clinical benefit and harm for acute low back pain: systematic review and meta-analysis. Jama317(14), 1451-1460.

10. Bernstein, I. A., Malik, Q., Carville, S., & Ward, S. (2017). Low back pain and sciatica: summary of NICE guidance. BMJ356, i6748.

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