According to the trade union, Unison, back pain is one of the major causes of work absences in the UK. It accounts for more than 12 million sick days every year and is split into two categories: acute pain, lasting for less than six weeks; and long-term chronic pain, that lasts for six weeks or more.
Most cases are caused by posture problems, strains and sprains, rather than spinal damage and other health conditions. Lower back pain is common among 38% of office workers, according to studies. It has been deemed the most expensive type of workplace health issue due to the amount of sick leave employees have to take.
Why does sitting at a desk cause back pain?
Health studies suggest having ineffective lumbar support in your chair, generally bad posture and leaning forward many times a day, or bending down to open drawers, will all contribute to the problem.
Of the employees who had been off sick with back pain, 68% had been able to return to the office within one month. Those who weren’t back at their desk within that timeframe were described by medical professionals as being at a “crucial point” for medical intervention. Otherwise, this could easily turn into long-term issues.
Why is bad posture a problem?
A simple way of reducing the likelihood of back pain is to improve your posture. Most office workers will be sitting at their desks for long periods of time. Unless you have the correct posture, this can lead to chronic pain and musculoskeletal disorders, which can impact not only productivity in the workplace but also your health.
Aim to improve workplace habits to correct posture through sensible ergonomic principles. While office work is one of the safest jobs you can do in terms of accidents, its own health issues, such as back pain, make it a hazardous job in some respects.
Research suggests that sitting for a long period of time without moving can impact spine alignment, leading to back pain. Several studies have found a strong link between sitting at a desk and chronic back pain. This is the case, regardless of how healthy you are, or how much you exercise outside the office.
How can you improve your posture?
Slouching can occur the longer you remain sitting down, which leaves your spine misaligned for long periods. Try to sit up straight, with your shoulders back, rather than leaning forward with an arched spine. This is when having a chair with the correct lumbar support, at the appropriate height, is vital.
If your workstation is set up badly, such as not having computers at eye level, this can cause neck strains and shoulder aches. When you get into bad habits as well, including crossing your legs while seated, this worsens backache, as it can miss-align your hips.
When you sit for too long at your desk, it reduces blood flow to the spinal discs, thus increasing the risks of general wear and tear. It’s important to mitigate the risks of long-term health damage before you even feel any pain by adopting healthy posture habits.
The term “ergonomics” means the general practice of fitting your job to your body. It means you must tailor the set-up of your computer equipment, desk and chair to best suit your body, so you feel comfortable at your workstation.
Experts advise using the “neutral posture” concept. This means sitting in a position that keeps your spine completely straight from top to bottom. This avoids the risk of spinal compression that you can suffer when slouching. Working with a bent spine can cause nerve pinching, spinal compressions and muscle tension.
Achieve a neutral spine condition in the office by always having your computer monitor at eye level, putting your shoulders back and keeping your spine flat against the chair. Keep your feet flat on the floor, without crossing your legs and use a lumbar support tool if needed.
If you do suffer from back and neck pain, keep a record of when it starts. This way, you can understand the pattern, which can help you to establish why you’re getting back pain and change your posture and behaviour to improve your daily wellbeing.
Always take the relevant breaks from your screen and stretch your legs. When you work in a flexible coworking space, it can be easier to take time out when you feel the need – and also to set up your workstation to fulfil your individual requirements.
Can employees claim compensation for back pain?
If an employer doesn’t provide the correct equipment and furniture to reduce the risks of work-related back pain, employees are within their rights to launch a compensation claim against the company.
This isn’t something that should be taken lightly. If it’s proven that moderate back pain has been caused by conditions in the workplace, the average employee’s claim against their employer for personal injury compensation is up to £12,500. This includes less serious back injuries, such as sprains, strains, soft tissue injury and muscular pain.
When assessing a claim, factors such as the treatment and recovery time will be considered. All in all, it pays employers to provide the correct set-up for employees, not only to keep them healthy and happy but also to prevent sick leave and potential compensation claims.
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