Back pain and musculoskeletal injuries are the leading cause of absence from work. While there are obligations from employers to protect the health and safety of their employees, you as an employee have a duty to look after yourself too. There’s a whole heap of advice out there about looking after your back at work.
Here, Mike James has done his research – in conjunction with Flexible Health insurance – and honed the list to give you five of the best things you can do to keep your back pain free.
How often are you moving?
The leading cause of back injuries is inactivity. No matter how good your chair, it’s crucial to get up and move around. Health experts recommend getting up and moving around for as little as one-to-two minutes every half hour. Not only can short breaks help your back. Research suggests employees who take regular short breaks are more energised and report higher job satisfaction as a result.
Are you sitting correctly?
We’re all aware of the benefits of ergonomically designed chairs, foot rests, wobble cushions and a whole manner of devices and gadgets designed to improve our posture. Ergonomics, by the way, is the scientific study of people in the workplace with a view to improving productivity. From the ergonomic mouse to the shoes you’re wearing, it doesn’t matter how many things you throw at it, if you’re not sitting in the right way then it could be money down the drain. Paying attention to posture is as important as the furniture you choose to support you.
What are you sitting on?
We all know by now that, as well as posture, the chair we sit on is equally important for healthy backs. We are bamboozled with information about what type of chair is best for us at work. It’s a minefield buying a new office chair and there’s a whole range of styles and prices to consider. A hefty price tag doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting the crème de la crème in ergonomics. We’ve compiled a list of features you should consider when buying your next office chair and most importantly be aware that one size definitely doesn’t fit all. For proper advice consult an ergonomic expert who can carry out a proper workstation assessment.
- Adjustable seat height – essential to ensure you are sitting at the correct height for your desk.
- Seat width and depth – the size of your seat pad will determine how comfortably you can sit. The depth is important for supporting your thighs. The ideal seat depth should allow three fingers depth between you and the chair when you sit as far back as possible in the seat.
- Lumbar support – a good ergonomic chair will enable you to adjust the height and depth of the seatback. Your lumbar spine has a natural curve. Supporting the contours of the spine is important and will help to avoid slouching.
- Seat tilt – used in conjunction with the lumbar support, it allows movement throughout the day.
Is your computer workstation a pain?
Something as small as re-organising your desk layout can make all the difference when it comes to back pain. Here are the basics in workstation layout to help reduce back pain at your desk.
- Your head should be balanced and not leaning forward.
- The top of the screen should be at about eye level.
- Arms should be relaxed, by your side with elbow joints at 90 degrees.
- Hands should be in line with forearms so the wrists are straight.
- You should be sitting back in your chair with good back support.
- There should be a small space between the chair seat and the back of your knee.
- Thighs should be roughly parallel to the floor.
- The screen should be approximately an arm length away from you.
- Feet should be flat on the floor or on a footrest.
- There should be enough space to use a mouse and never put documents between you and the keyboard – use an adjustable document holder to hold documents at the same height and distance as the monitor.
How is your emotional health?
It’s not just inactivity that causes back problems. It’s a well reported fact that stress manifests itself physiologically. Getting uptight does exactly what it says on the tin. So it’s no surprise to learn that stress commonly manifests in the neck, the shoulders and the back. Many people hold emotional stress in their muscles. We’ve all experienced a tension headache haven’t we? There’s increasing evidence that long term stress plays havoc with our health. It contributes to inflammation in the body, which inevitably affects muscles and joints.
Managing stress at work should be high on the priority list if you really want to cover all angles in preventing back pain at work. Why not factor in some breathing exercises or mini meditations when you are taking a break from your desk. Even having a two minute stretching routine every hour where you can also focus on your breathing really can have positive benefits.