As restrictions start to ease and work is resuming, desk-based working is on the increase in all parts of the world, but the way we work is changing due to the demand and increase in digital based services in the data age.
Although office and call centre based job roles have increased, there has also been a shift to more agile working, such as from home and mobile locations, due to a greater demand for more flexible working. Being sedentary at work has a huge effect on your body and can be heavily influenced by how you setup your environment and workspace.
Injury from poor posture, desk setup and bad habits can cause absence from work and reduce levels of productivity. Symptoms of pain and stiffness in the neck, upper back and shoulders are the most common, but can be avoided by following these four simple steps.
1. Workstation Setup
The position in which we work is very important as it helps to keep our body working as it should. Long term habits of hunching, slouching and overextending due to a poor ergonomic setup will start to cause problems for the body and symptoms will build up. It depends on each person and what condition their body is in, but most people are resilient, and symptoms may take a long time to develop – but when they do, they can have a huge impact on everyday life.
In the office there are a few essential things that can help you improve your working position including a good supportive seat which has a height adjustable back rest, height adjustable seat, and a good lumbar support. The screen you work off should be level with your eyes – the top third of the screen should be eye height. Your mouse and keyboard should be close to you so that your elbows remain in line with your shoulders, to prevent overreaching.
When working from home or away from the office, you need to consider how you setup your working position. Always choose a higher working platform to bring your screen to eye height. If you do have to work in varied locations think about the time you are spending in a potential poor position, such as your laptop on a low table in a café or slumped on the sofa with the laptop on your legs. Consider getting equipment to convert your laptop to a more posture friendly setup. Essentials would be a laptop stand, wireless keyboard and mouse.
Visit https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/ck1.pdf for a display screen equipment checklist to keep you right.
2. Position Changes & Posture
Position changes at work are vital. Typically, if working for long periods, most people will remain in their seat and continue to work without taking a break to change their posture. When this happens, our body can become tight, weaker and we can even develop discomfort. A simple change of position every 20 minutes is enough to ease these symptoms, which could be a short walk around the office, or performing a small routine of mobility stretches for the neck, shoulders, back and legs. Now every 20 minutes may seem quite frequent – however, if left in the same position your body will start to develop some aches and pains. If you are really busy and can’t do this, then aim to get up and move around every hour!
Posture is defined as our long-term body position and this is obviously influenced by how we setup our workstation (point number 1). If you work in a good position most of the time you will have a good posture and a body that works well. If you work in an overreached, slouched, or hunched position then you are at risk of developing the dreaded hunch back posture! Your body is a product of what you do with it each day.
3. Exercise and Stretching
We weren’t designed to sit for long periods, but we were designed to move for long periods. Our body responds well to movement but breaks down when we don’t move it enough.
The key to remaining physically healthy if you have a sedentary job is to adhere to all of the points in this blog, but most importantly make your body do something different to what it does every day – by doing exercise! The best exercise to improve resilience and body function for most people is to do some form of strength training. It improves your muscle mass, strength and joint health – all things which can suffer when you remain immobile all day!
It is also essential that you implement a good stretching routine into your day as you can spend over 5 hours sitting at a desk for work. Sitting for this length of time can shorten specific muscles and cause imbalances which are not good for the body. When performing a static stretch to elongate an overactive or tight muscle, we advise to hold each stretch for a minimum of 40 seconds. Anything less that that amount of time will not allow the muscle fibers and tissues adequate time to release tension and reach the desired length.
4. Massage / Maintenance
A handy tip for work would be to keep a small massager tool by your workspace to allow you to release any tightness in the neck and shoulders, and manage any discomfort on a regular basis – this reduces the chances of developing any long term symptoms.
Regular, scheduled deep tissue massage is beneficial to help manage pain levels, improve circulation, and reduce the tight areas of stress, which can build up from your regular working demands. Seeking out good massage therapy can be key to keeping your body in check. The neck and shoulders are the most affected areas from desk-based work due to certain positions and the strain it puts on the joints of the neck, the discs and surrounding muscles. Keeping these areas loose and symptom free allows us to move comfortably, improve posture and protect the structures of these areas.
Seated work can take its toll on your body but if you follow the basics of a good setup, frequent movement, varied exercise and maintenance of body’s soft tissues then you should be fine.