back pain at workThe health risks of working at a desk all day are a hot topic at the moment – and rightly so. As human beings we’re not designed to be still all day, yet our lifestyles and working habits can have us sitting for anything up to 14 hours a day.

Back pain is one of the leading causes for workplace absence with 31 million working days lost in 2013 – predominantly due to back and neck pain (Office of National Statistics).  With the increase in mobile technology and hand held devices never far from our reach, the British Chiropractic Association describes modern day life as “24 hours of strain”.

Long hours at work, the daily commute and evenings in front of the television or computer have resulted in a nation at risk from long term back problems as well as a host of other health issues.  You only have to Google the term ‘office workers too sedentary’ to be faced with pages of reports that recently hit the headlines.

So what’s the solution? Well, in it’s most simplistic form it would be to sit less and move around more.  But if you’re in a corporate environment that’s easier said than done.

Here are a few ways to begin to reduce the effects of sitting whilst at work:

  • Firstly ensure that your workstation is set up correctly. This means that your monitor screen is directly in front of you, at eye height and around arms length away. Your keyboard and mouse are placed as close to the edge of the desk as possible to avoid having to lean forward, with your keyboard being directly in front of you. Your chair arms are low enough that you can get your legs under the desk, your seat is high enough that your hips are slightly higher than your knees and your feet can be placed flat on the floor – consider using a footrest if you need one.
  • Sit neutrally. This means both feet on the floor, facing forwards and equal weight distribution through your seat bones. Your back is fully supported and your neck and shoulders are relaxed. This allows muscles to have a rest and ‘reset’ themselves to break tight holding patterns.
  • Avoid crossing your legs. Consider this for a moment – when you cross your legs you rock your weight onto one side. This lifts your opposite hip upwards, in turn forcing your whole upper body to one side. To balance this out you lean the other way. Muscle groups are working out of balance and pulling on the bony structures. When done repeatedly this forces a new way of being for the body, and that hip has a tendency to stay in that elevated position.
  • Stand on both feet. This might sound daft, but how often do you stand with your weight on one leg, or lean a foot against a wall or a knee on a chair? Balanced standing, with equal weight distribution through both feet keeps the pelvis aligned and your centre of gravity in the best place – centrally!

A quick note on wallets – gents, where is your wallet right now? If the answer is ‘in my back pocket’ then please remove it immediately! Take a look at the thickness of your wallet and imagine what sitting on that is doing to your body balance! When sitting, your wallet is better placed in a front pocket or jacket pocket, or some other secure place but not underneath your hip!

As well as ensuring your workstation is set up to suit you it’s important to move during the day. Easy ways to avoid sitting for too long include:

  • Take regular breaks from desk work and have a walk around – to the bathroom, to the water cooler, to a colleague instead of emailing them. Use the stairs instead of the lifts where possible.
  • Vary your working day so you avoid spending too long in any one position. Stand up when you are on the phone, have standing or walking meetings, take a walk at lunchtime.
  • If you are confined to your desk for more than an hour at a time then every 30 minutes have a stretch, roll your shoulders, extend your legs and circle your feet.

Take some time to find the right balance of sitting and moving, and ensure that when you’re sitting it’s in the most body-friendly way.

Recent headlines announcing that office workers are ‘too sedentary’ highlighted the lesser known consequences such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancers and poor mental health (BBC). There are so many reasons why moving more is beneficial to health and I hope you’ve found some inspiration here to take the steps necessary to prevent longer term health issues. By taking responsibility for your own health you can not only enjoy the benefits, but inspire others to follow suit.

© Natalie Percival 2015