A research paper has recently been published whose aim was to ‘investigate the effectiveness of workplace interventions to increase standing or walking for preventing the development or recurrence of musculoskeletal symptoms in sedentary workers’.
The following is a summary of the paper which will be of interest to those who suffer musculoskeletal pain, and includes information on supporting pain management as well as practical information on prevention.
The researchers are proposing that a review of work place interventions be undertaken to investigate their effectiveness in preventing the development or recurrence of musculoskeletal symptoms in sedentary workers. They hope to be able to report on the effectiveness of interventions such as increasing activity in the workplace, the provision of ergonomic workstations, software to remind workers to take a break, modification to office layout that encourages standing or walking.
Musculoskeletal symptoms, such as pain or discomfort derived from injuries or disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage and spinal discs, contribute significantly to global disease burden.
The top ten causes of living with disability include low back pain, neck pain and osteoarthritis. Musculoskeletal complaints are one of the most prevalent occupational problems and contribute to an economic burden in terms of direct medical costs, loss of work productivity, work disability, absenteeism and loss of productivity while at work.
There is a high prevalence of these symptoms reported amongst sedentary workers with up to 92% of office workers have reported musculoskeletal symptoms and 63% of office workers reporting that work contributed to their musculoskeletal symptoms over the previous 12 months.
Posture in the workplace including prolonged keyboard and mouse use, high workload and stress are all thought to contribute to the development of musculoskeletal symptoms in sedentary workers.
Although the association between sedentary behaviour and the development of musculoskeletal symptoms is inconsistent employment is now less physically demanding with recent studies showing that workers are sedentary for 77% to 82% of working hours. Therefore, the workforce is potentially at greater risk of musculoskeletal symptoms, and other health risks, if these are related to sedentary work.
Occupational sitting has been associated with musculoskeletal symptoms including pain in the low back and the lower extremities. It has been suggested that sitting posture, lack of varied movements and increased spinal loading are among the suggested mechanisms explaining the occurrence of musculoskeletal symptoms during sitting.
The lack of movement can also be a reason for a reduced blood flow through the lower extremities, which can be experienced as musculoskeletal pain. Moreover, occupational sitting is presumed to often occur with computer work, which is associated with neck and upper extremity symptoms causing pain symptoms in various parts of the body.
Although current evidence is inconclusive, standing or walking times during work have the potential to prevent the development of musculoskeletal symptoms in sedentary workers.
The workplace is a convenient and practical venue to target interventions to modify sedentary behaviour.
There is growing evidence to suggest that interventions such as increasing standing or walking during work hours can change patterns of sedentary behaviour.
A number of strategies have been highlighted:
- the provision of an activity based workstations such as a treadmill or sit-stand workstation, or changes to the built environment of the workplace.
- Interventions targeted at the individual – including tailored walking programs in work breaks or promotion of the use of stairs during work hours, break-reminding software and individual counselling programs.
- Interventions targeted at the organisation – for example, standing meetings and ‘active/walking’ emails.
- Workplace interventions may also be multi-component – where an organization employs a combination of intervention approaches.
How the intervention might work
Workplace interventions that promote standing and walking may prevent the development of musculoskeletal symptoms by interrupting sustained postures associated with prolonged sitting, by increasing muscle activation through encouraging workers to change posture more frequently. In a recent review examining workplace sit-stand workstations it was found that these workstations can reduce musculoskeletal discomfort in employees who experience pain.
It should be noted that while increasing standing up and walking may prevent musculoskeletal pain, prolonged standing at work has also been associated with low back pain and pain in the lower extremities.
There are guidelines that suggest changing working positions regularly and limiting prolonged standing can help to avoid these symptoms.
There are other factors that may influence the development of musculoskeletal symptoms which include age, gender, weight and previous episodes of musculoskeletal symptoms all of which may impact the effectiveness of the intervention.
How we can help
The Luck’s Yard ChiroMoves app has been developed with the purpose of helping people to stay active throughout the day and there are many targeted exercises and stretches for specific parts of the body.
Download the app here and you can have the convenience of reminders through your phone or tablet:
We also have some great videos demonstrating stretches and exercises on the homepage of the website. Here are some links to the ones for low back pain and neck pain but do take a look and see how we can help you.