Spinal problems are a preventable occupational hazard for anyone in a desk-bound profession and the high incidence of backache in this sector is due largely to lack of ergonomically designed work stations and attention to spinal health.
Many factors contribute to spinal complaints, while simple and often common-sense practices can avoid and even cure backache. Disorders of the lower back have reached epidemic proportions and office workers, particularly secretaries and administrative staff, who spend long hours sitting behind desks, are among those most at risk. Surveys regularly show that virtually every desk-bound worker can point to some back problem that can be attributed directly to his or her profession.
When one considers the loss of productivity as a result of back and associated problems, it is worthwhile for a company to ensure that its administrative staff have ergonomically designed work stations.
Incorrect seat height is the most critical contributing factor to backache and neck tension. Ideally every staff member should be able to sit with their feet flat on the ground and their knees bent 90 degrees. If you can’t sit with your feet flat on the floor, your spine is not properly supported, resulting in poor posture and muscle fatigue of the back.
Other problems, such as a build-up of pressure in the back of the thighs, can cause restricted blood flow and numbness in the legs. When your seat is too high in comparison to your desk, your back is strained, as you’re forced to bend forward to work.
Special considerations need to be taken when using a swivel chair. There should be a hard surface under the chair so that you don’t have to push too hard to move about. Placement of the computer work station in relation to your sitting position is also crucial. Ideally, screens should be situated directly in front of users and at the correct height, so that you can type by simply looking straight ahead while tilting your head downwards only slightly.
Simple practices such as taking regular breaks to stretch and exercise, taking the time to learn how to care for your spine and applying those practices, will also contribute greatly to a drop in back complaints.
Reviewed by Dr Pradeep Makan, orthopaedic surgeon, Melomed Gatesville and Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Cape Town and part-time lecturer in the department of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Cape Town, 2010.