In today’s society, Canadians commonly sit for eight or more hours a day between work and the daily commute. Research shows that we are more sedentary than ever before. In industrialized countries, it has been reported that 75 percent of workers have sedentary jobs which require them to sit for extended periods of time. 

Prolonged sitting can negatively affect your muscles, joints, and nervous system, and can lead to deconditioning (decline in physical functioning), fatigue, and stress on the spinal discs causing pain in the lower back. The negative effects of sitting have received considerable attention recently, and alarmingly, have been compared to smoking in terms of risk to one’s health. 

Not just a pain in the neck

Each year, over 11 million Canadians suffer from at least one musculoskeletal (MSK) condition. In fact, lower back pain and other MSK conditions (such as back, neck, shoulder, knee and joint pain, as well as headaches and migraines) account for one-third of missed work in Canada, second only to the common cold. MSK conditions not only affect Canadians’ health and wellbeing, it can also have a profound negative influence on their ability to engage meaningfully in their work and family life. 

For employers, MSK conditions can seriously impact workplace productivity, whether as a result of absenteeism or presenteeism (lost productivity due to workers who are at work but suffering pain and discomfort due to an MSK condition). Both situations carry economic and moral costs, and employers are now turning their attention to the risk factors associated with MSK conditions and the workplace. Commonly, employers support and sponsor health and wellness benefits while instituting appropriate accommodations for the needs of injured workers, such as modified work stations, ergonomic chairs, and adjustable keyboard trays.

Despite health being at the forefront of the minds of many Canadians, our health remains compromised by everyday work and lifestyle practices. 

Is daily exercise enough?

The negative impacts on MSK health of poor workplace ergonomics and prolonged sitting are well known. However, the lesser-known effect is if the health risks are as pronounced among workers who regularly engage in physical activity. New research suggests that even by achieving current physical activity guidelines, workers who sit for most of the day continue to be at risk. Unfortunately, meeting daily and weekly physical activity recommendations may not be enough to counter the health risks associated with sitting. 

What can you do at work?

If you want to improve your posture (and thereby your back health) at work, the best way to start is by being more mindful of your daily habits. In a recent survey, 94 percent of office workers could name and recognize which workplace behaviours aggravated their aches and pains, including hunching over their desk, sitting for long periods of time, or using a mouse, among others. Identifying problematic behaviours, bringing your attention to how you sit, walk and move, as well as developing a plan to address potential MSK issues is a great start. 

If you are experiencing pain or are interested in prevention, consider seeking treatment from a chiropractor or other regulated healthcare professional. Chiropractors are extensively trained in the prevention, assessment, diagnosis, and management of MSK conditions and will recommend a course of treatment to help relieve pain and improve function. Treatment may include manipulation, mobilization, soft tissue therapy, exercise, education, modalities (for example, ultrasound or laser), and rehabilitation among others.