Managing Back Pain at Work

April 24, 2017 at 3:27 PM

With today's high dependency on computers and busy lifestyles, 80% of people will suffer from back pain at some stage in their life. Sitting in poor postures and poor core stability are big contributing factors to these statistics. We understand that it is difficult to stay sitting bolt upright all day, so instead of stressing and constantly thinking about your posture, we suggest you alter your desk set up and use a lumbar roll to support the natural curve in your lumbar spine. Using a lumbar roll will mean you can sit back and relax in your chair with your lumbar spine in a safe, supported position.

What is OOS/RSI or work-related overuse injuries? How does it affect me?

The law requires employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees and other people at the workplace, including clients and visitors. This is referred to as the employer’s duty of care. To fulfil this duty, employers must ensure that the premises, machinery and equipment, chemicals, systems of work and the working environment are safe and without risks to health.

As a worker, you are entitled to expect safe and healthy working conditions, but you need to participate in arrangements made for health and safety in order to help create and maintain those good health and safety conditions. Success in managing health and safety risks depends on the participation and cooperation of all workers.

Occupational overuse syndrome (OOS) or repetitive strain injury (RSI) are collective terms known for a range of conditions characterised by discomfort or persistent pain in muscles, tendons and other soft tissues, with or without physical manifestations. It is usually associated with tasks which involve repetitive or forceful movement or both; and/or maintenance of constrained or awkward postures.

(Definition from National Code Of Practice or the Prevention Of Occupational Overuse Syndrome, NOHSC, 1994).

The Workstation

Careful placement of your desk and chair and keyboard, monitor and mouse are essential for a good working environment.You need to position a keyboard, mouse and monitor so that your body isn’t placed under stress, especially as these devices are often used for long periods. The following diagram shows the correct way you should sit when using a computer. Notice how the monitor is positioned in relation to the person’s eye level.

You may spend many hours sitting, gazing at monitors and keying in information, so if the equipment that you use is not set up correctly, it can cause overuse related problems. How you sit (your posture) and whether you move around (your mobility)also play a role in preventing issues. 

However, it is currently believed that variety and movement are the keys to injury prevention rather than exact posture.

The Monitor

The monitor (VDU or screen) is your page. If your monitor is poorly set up, it can cause eye strain. When sitting at your monitor, make sure that in general, you can see all text and graphics on the screen clearly without having to peer at them, lean forward or strain. The most important aspects of setting up the monitor to avoid eye strain are to make sure glare and reflections are not a problem. So the position of the monitor in the room, and adjusting blinds or lighting to reduce or redirect strong light sources are important things to consider.

You can also make adjustments to the monitor control settings, such as contrast and brightness, and to font size and screen resolution — to improve the readability of text and graphics on a screen to suit your needs. When setting up your monitor, you need to position the monitor (or adjust other conditions in the room) to avoid glare and reflections on the screen, also make sure the screen is nice and clean. The monitor should be set up at the correct distance and height. 

Tiredness can also be caused by other problems with your workstation setup or poor posture. It can also result from long work sessions. If you think you may have eyesight problems, it is important to get your eyesight checked by your doctor or an optometrist, as screen work tends to aggravate existing eye problems. If you normally wear glasses or contact lenses, you should wear them when working at your computer.

Checklist for setting up a monitor...

  •  Is the screen positioned to minimise strain on your neck and back? The screen should be below eye level. As a rule of thumb, the top toolbar on most screens should be at eye level.

  • Have the screen display and resolution been set up to minimise eye strain? While some combinations are less fatiguing than others, the ultimate choice of these is personal.

  • Is the computer screen clean? Is the screen display stable with no flickering?

  • Are the characters large enough to be easily read? Is the screen mounted on a swivel base and is it angle-adjustable?

  • If adjusted and situated properly this can reduce glare and reflections coming from it. Do you need an anti-glare filter?

The Chair

Many office jobs often involve sitting for long periods. If you sit for long periods, you are at risk of back disorders. The two greatest problems seem to be:

1. sitting upright or forward

2. not changing position.

The type of chair you have will help you to prevent overuse problems.You must make sure you have an ergonomic chair. Don’t just get a dining room chair or some old office chair which can’t be adjusted correctly.A swivel chair with a stable base, free-moving and will allow easy access to any material around you. If you are mainly doing keyboard work, a chair with no arms, or with hinged or removable arms, enables you to get as close to your work as necessary. If the chair has armrests, they should be low enough to fit under the desk. It should transfer weight through the buttocks, not the thighs.

Chair adjustments...

 The most important chair adjustments are:

  • Seat height from the floor — the feet should be able to rest flat on the floor. However, this doesn't mean the feet should always be flat on the floor. Legs should be free to stay in different positions.

  • Depth from the front of the seat to the backrest — you should be able to use the backrest without any pressure behind the knees. For talking and interviewing, the angle of the backrest should be 10 to 20 degrees back from the vertical.

  • Lumbar support height — every person is shaped differently but aim to support the lumbar part of your spine. You may require a lumbar roll for increase support, you can purchase one from our clinic or trial using a rolled up towel as a temporary option. 

Keep Active

You should try to move around as much as possible. This helps your muscles to relax and recover, it also alternately compresses and decompresses the intervertebral discs, which results in better filtration of fluids into and out of the cores of the discs. That way discs stay plumper and, in the long run, healthier.

Foot Position

Your feet should rest on the floor (even when extended), one slightly in front of the other. You should keep your legs moving by changing position as much as possible.Sometimes in achieving the correct height for your arms, your feet are no longer supported, so use a footstool or two phone books taped together to give them the support they need. Footstools have their problems, however, as they limit the variety of places for your feet.

The Keyboard

Apart from gazing at the monitor, the other activity most office workers are doing repetitively is keying in information.The following information should help you to avoid problems. When keying, your hands should float freely above the keys, much like a piano is played. An appropriate wrist rest, one that is not too thin, too thick, too hard or with sharp edges, may be used to give extra support when not keying. Make sure your head is not bent too far forward to see the screen.

Keyboard placement...

Place the keyboard on the desk directly in front of you and in front of the screen to encourage correct work posture.

  • Make sure the forearms are supported, the wrist is kept straight.

  • Make sure the elbows aren’t resting on anything hard or sharp.

  • The keyboard should be in the same plane as the forearm.

  • Aim to keep the mouse as close to the keyboard as possible.

If you are typing from a document, use a document holder to lift the height of the documents being read.

If your job requires you to speak on the phone for long periods use a headset rather than a handheld phone.

If you are continuously writing or keying, make sure you have a short break (5–10 minutes) each hour. The exact length of the break will depend on the intensity of the work you’re doing. The break could involve doing another activity related to the work, such as making phone calls or doing exercises to refresh and relax the muscles. Rule of thumb: whatever you do often and for long periods of time, do the opposite during a break and move around. 

Category: Physiotherapy