Can sitting at a desk cause back pain?

Last Updated on Friday, 14 January, 2022 at 11:19 am by Andre Camilleri

Dr Georgiana Farrugia Bonnici MD, BSc (Hons).

Back pain is common and can be extremely painful, but it is rarely due to serious disease. It is known that people who have office jobs are more likely to suffer from chronic back pain, as a result of bad posture as well as maintaining the same position for longer periods of time throughout their typical working days. Furthermore, back pain can also be due to repetitive tasks, the use of force in heavy manual labour or operating vibration tools, as well as working in colder outdoor temperatures in winter.

Predisposing risk factors for chronic back pain include any previous back injuries, alcohol or drug abuse, obesity or reduction in fitness activity, participation in contact sports, as well as various psychological and social factors.

Fortunately, there are simple day-to-day measures that employees can implement to optimise their workstations and help in the prevention of recurrent back pain.

1)         Office chairs should ideally have lumbar support at the belly button level. One can  opt to put a pillow or a rolled towel behind their back. The height of office chairs should be adjusted so that the feet lie flat on the floor and the knees remain at a 90-degree angle to the floor. Moreover, one should ensure that the office chairs arm-rests are at a 90-degree angle. Finally, one should keep the computer monitors at arm’s length as this will encourage the employees to sit back, instead of leaning forward and precipitating chronic neck strain.

2)         It is also common practice for employees to tuck their telephones between their head and their shoulder to free up their hands while talking, thereby causing additional strain to their neck and shoulders. One should ideally use a headset or a speakerphone setting for any telephone conversations lasting more than five minutes.

3)         It is also important to take short breaks to alternate between the sitting and the standing positions throughout the day. All employees should dedicate some time to stretching their body for at least 60 seconds, as sitting for prolonged periods of time can weaken the back muscles. Moreover, improved core muscles strengthening via exercise, such as yoga, sit-ups or Pilates may also naturally improve one’s posture and eventually reduce back pain.

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In 1994, the Malta Business Weekly became the first newspaper fully dedicated to business. Today this newspaper is a leader in business and financial news. Together with the launch of the MBW newspaper, the company started organising various business breakfasts to discuss various current issues that were targeting the business community in Malta.