If your back is sore, you are not alone. But you need not live with office back pain or its costs. This article explains how to minimise back pain at your desk.
A Big Problem
According to the World Health Organisation, the lifetime prevalence of non-specific (common) lower back pain is estimated at 60% to 70% in industrialized countries. One-year prevalence 15% to 45%. The incidence of first-ever episodes of low back pain is high by early adulthood and symptoms tend to recur over time.
Back disorders caused 3.4 million sick days off in Great Britain in 2015/16. No wonder Californians are now referring to sitting as “the new smoking”.
Back pain is distracting and expensive for both the sufferer and their employer.
For example, if a staff member’s productivity is reduced by one hour each day as a result of their pain, that is a 1/8 reduction in working time. For someone earning £50,000 p.a., this 12.5% loss is worth £6,250 p.a. For a workforce of 100, assuming 30% are afflicted with back pain, this is worth £187,500 p.a. or, on average, £1,875 per staff member per year.
For the individual, a reduction in productivity and persistent pain decreases your ability to shine above your peers to earn promotion.
Solutions to Office Back Pain
Some of the following solutions to office back pain can be done at no cost; others require the purchase of better furniture which has historically been expensive. Today, thanks to high quality remanufacturers likes Rype Office, ergonomic furniture can be purchased for less than half of the new list price. This means that all solutions are now affordable for every organisation.
There are three types of solutions to office back pain:
1. Ergonomically adjustable desk chair
A good desk chair will be adjustable in the following ways:
- Seat height (gas lift)
- Lumbar support height (and the chair must have lumbar support – beware mesh-backed chairs which often do not)
- Back recline (including lockable and variable resistance tilt)
- Arm height
- Seat slide
Chairs should be set up to suit your individual body shape. You can find instructions on how to do so at How to Set up a Desk Chair
2. Desk and monitor heights
How to Set up a Desk Chair explains how and why desk height and monitor height are important.
Desk height should not require a user to lift or drop their shoulders, which causes tension in back muscles. Some desks have minor adjustability built-into their construction, while most can also be raised on chocks.
Monitors should be positioned so the top of the monitor is at eye level. This is the most comfortable position, avoiding neck strain from looking up or down all day. This can easily be achieved with a monitor stand or arm.
3. Changing position during the day
Switching mouse sides varies muscle use and avoids tension build-up on one side of the body.
Chair tilt mechanisms should be used when possible, multiple times per day. While having the seat back fixed is useful for typing, rocking back when speaking on the phone provides relief for back muscles.
Even greater back relief occurs when standing up. This can be achieved with no loss in productivity in three ways (from most expensive to least):
The high –tech solution enabling standing while working is a sit–stand desk, allowing desk height to be raised or lowered through the push of a button or crank of a handle.
Instead of lifting the whole desk, Varidesks and similar systems allow the user to lift their computer so they can stand up. Varidesks sit on top of a normal desk and use gas struts for ease of height adjustment. This solution can be moved easily between desks and enable staff with sore backs to trial this solution to see if it works for them.
High work benches
An even lower cost solution is to incorporate high benches (ideally 1.075m high) with power into the design of your office – usually in a quiet underutilised corner of the room or, better, beside a window. This provides a pleasant working zone where staff can take their laptop or tablet to work standing up. These benches do not need to be more than 500mm deep.
A major advantage of this approach is that these benches can be used as overflow space when there is a shortage of desks on those rare occasions that all staff are in the office. Conversely, having these benches can reduce the number of desks in the office to less than one per staff member.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Rype Office remanufactures high quality office furniture, providing the ergonomic benefits of well-designed and fully adjustable chairs and desks at less than half the list price. Rype Office’s free design service can transform your office from a torture chamber to a dynamic, healthy workspace. Call us on 033 3358 3330 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
 World Health Organisation, 2013. Priority Medicines for Europe and the World Update Report, Chapter 6.24, p. 1.. (Accessed 24 April 2017 at http://www.who.int/medicines/areas/priority_medicines/en/)
 UK Health and Safety Executive, 2016. Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorder (WRMSDs) Statistics, Great Britain 2016, p. 2. (Accessed 24 April 2017 at http://www.hse.gov.uk/Statistics/causdis/musculoskeletal/msd.pdf). Note that these statistics include back disorders from manual handling.