Sitting: the unexpected hazard in the workplace

21.05.12

To coincide with the launch of Office Anatomy, osteopath and lecturer, Tim Hanwell, advises on the top 5 workplace injuries caused by seating and seated posture, and provides advice for minimising potential risk.

Sitting is viewed as a low risk activity but workplace injury caused by seating or seated posture is very real and affects many thousands of the working population.  It can develop over a period of time so may not be immediately obvious, but when the physical symptoms develop they can be severe.  For example, I treated one patient with such an acute case of RSI caused by typing her dissertation that she couldn't hold a cup of tea or turn a door handle.

Small changes in the way we work and sit can produce a dramatic improvement in the health and productivity of the employee, ultimately benefitting the employer in terms of raised output, reduced staff absence, improved employee retention and an increase in company profits.

Read my advice below regarding the top 5 workplace-related injuries.  Then if you'd like to learn more about how we can help you implement safe working conditions in your office, call me on 01442 878900 or telephone Office Anatomy's head office on 01442 875666.

1.  Shoulder/neck pain

When you wedge a telephone between your shoulder and ear, or if your ‘mouse posture' is wrong, the levator scapulae muscles situated either side of your neck elevate the shoulder blade in a similar manner to shrugging.  The longer term effects can be pain in either the shoulders or neck - or both.

Risk management:

Wearing headphones when on the phone enables you to keep your hands free for writing notes or using the computer - and it's much better for your neck and shoulders.  It's also important to ensure your mouse can be easily reached without over stretching; it should be moved in front of, and in line with, the shoulder (as opposed to across the front of the body or out to the side).

2.  Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)     

RSI used to be thought of as a case of malingering - a non-existent problem.  This couldn't be further from the truth.  RSI can be painful and debilitating and is usually caused by overuse of forearm muscles due to typing or repetitive use of a mouse (both clicking or scrolling).

Risk management:

Wrists should be in a neutral position when using either a keyboard or a mouse.  Specially designed mats are available to support the wrists in the correct position.  It is also important to ensure you are seated at the correct height for the desk.

3.  Tension headaches

Tension headaches in the workplace can be caused by sitting with the chin jutting forwards, for example when craning forward to look at the computer screen.  This posture puts pressure on muscles and joints in the upper neck, resulting in headaches.

Risk management:

For touch typists, the top of the computer screen should ideally be at eye level; for non-touch typists, the screen should be just below eye level.  Remove arm rests on chairs if they are preventing you from moving closer to your desk and lean into the back rest.

4.  Lower back pain

Incorrect sitting posture or an unsupportive chair is often the prime culprit when it comes to lower back pain in the workplace.

Risk management:

The best position is to sit back in the chair so that the arch in the lumbar spine is supported by the curved section of the chair.  Adjust the height of the back rest if need be.

5.  Tight hamstrings

Sitting for too long can result in shortening of the hamstrings (muscles in the back of the thighs).  This in turn can lead to lower back pain or hamstring injury when exercising. 

Risk management:

Regular ‘walk breaks' away from the desk are a must.