The American Chiropractic Association estimates that back pain is responsible for 264 million lost workdays per year in the US alone. That’s the equivalent of two workdays for every full-time employee! Additionally, estimates suggest that up to 80% of the population will experience back pain at some time in their lives. Even more striking is the WHO estimates that the lifetime prevalence of non-specific (common) back pain is between 60% and 70% in industrialized countries.
Estimates like this lend some clues about what could be contributing to the pain. The issue seems to be surfacing in countries where sedentary work and work-related stress is most common. This is particularly concerning for fields that demand long days and long stretches of uninterrupted sedentary time in front of a screen—including the corporate business world. Below are a few takeaways from this data:
Office Environments Are Bad for Long-Term Back Health
Any repetitive movement performed incorrectly can cause pain over time, even (or especially) if that movement involves sitting incorrectly. Our bodies are designed to react to and adjust to routines, and if we force them into one posture, they will eventually react negatively when/if that posture is unsustainable or unsupportive from a musculoskeletal perspective. The modern-day business environment forces workers to sit at desks all day, often slouching for hours. This is not conducive to long-term back health.
Back to Basics
In a recent report, Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders in the Workplace, The United States Department of Labor, Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) notes that companies that implement an “ergonomic process” are more effective at reducing musculoskeletal disorders in a wide range of industries (construction, office jobs, healthcare, and warehousing). But what does an “ergonomic process” look like? And how can you advocate for one in your own workplace?
An ergonomic process involves implementing the following services to help educate employees about back pain and provide resources for recovery, if appropriate:
- Providing managerial support
- Involving workers in decisions about ergonomics
- Investing in training programs for employees
- Allocating resources to help identify the problems that are contributing to employees’ back pain
- Taking steps to encourage early reporting of employee musculoskeletal symptoms
- Implementing wellness programs to help alleviate stress
Employees should feel comfortable discussing and advocating for these services in the workplace.
Stretching Can Help
After a long day of sitting at a desk, stretching is often the last thing on your mind. But performing simple daily stretching exercises can dramatically reduce your risk for developing long-term back pain as a result of bad postural habits. This is especially important for anyone who works at a desk all day. Stretching routinely can help prevent muscle weakness, injury, and even headaches.
And it doesn’t need to be complicated! When sitting at your desk, make sure you stand up at least once per hour, rotate your head and neck in circles in both directions, and perform light shoulder and back stretches. Trust your body—stretch in a way that feels intuitively right. Hold each stretch position for 10 to 20 seconds. One bonus to making this a priority is that taking frequent breaks has also been shown to improve concentration, focus, and memory.
If you’re looking to improve the health of your back now and in the future, stretching is the ultimate key. Make sure to take this guide into consideration and implement these practices in your office space.