Buzz around the office is that sitting has become the newest workplace hazard. Recent research on the effects of sitting for long periods of time on the body all reach similar conclusions: that sitting for more than 3 hours a day causes accumulative damages to your musculoskeletal system1. In addition, the negative effects of sitting operate independently of moderate to vigorous physical activity around those hours of being sedentary. If you work in an office or spend the majority of your working hours sitting at a desk, this news may seem like a nagging concern you’re powerless against. What can we, as the sitting workforce, do to prevent increasing our risk of developing painful musculoskeletal disorders later in life or even risk shortening our lifespans1?
Static is Problematic
Maintaining any one position for an extended period of time, whether it’s sitting or standing, can lead to musculoskeletal discomfort, and eventually, damage2. Workers that remain seated throughout the day often complain of physical discomfort even after just a few hours. Once you begin shifting your legs and torso in an attempt to counteract the discomfort, you’ve reached the time when you should switch to standing. Shifting body posture and position, as your body seems to urge you to do, is actually what’s best for you2.
Postural variation throughout the workday redistributes your weight to engage new muscles, not putting too much strain on any one set, reducing pressure on the lower back, buttocks and legs2. Repositioning oneself throughout the day also satisfies the body’s natural tendency to stretch, which promotes blood flow to your extremities to help combat varicose veins or blood clots.
Standing all day can also result in fatigue or muscle stress, namely wear and tear on the joints in feet, knees, hips, and spine. Degeneration of the tendons and ligaments can also occur, contributing to rheumatic diseases like arthritis. Blood flow may pool in the legs and feet, creating insufficient blood flow to some of your more major muscle groups, like the back and neck. Lastly, loss of bone alignment in the feet can become a health issue over time, causing flat feet or other podiatric inflammation.
Whether your job requires you to sit or stand in one position for the majority of the workday, it’s in your best interest to organize your tasks in order to accommodate a change in position every few hours. Take short, frequent breaks to get blood flowing into other parts of the body and promote muscle movement. Opt to stand at a higher desk for a few hours every day if possible. Remember, if you begin to feel restless or find yourself consistently shifting your position, it might be time for a quick walk around the building.
Movement is the Key to Unlocking Productivity
It’s no surprise that an active body is an active mind. For those supervisors that may be concerned allowing employees more frequent breaks or investing in ergonomically approved office furniture will be a waste of money, research suggests these workers show no loss in productivity3. Employees tend to perform better and stay focused longer when their bodies aren’t suffering discomfort throughout the day.
Healthier employees equal happier employees with decreased turnover rates and higher rates of efficiency. The Principle of Factor Sparsity (also known as the 80/20 rule) states that for many events, about 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. While there are many applications and examples of this principle in economics, the point illustrated here is that 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of the time its staff spent. By creating an environment where that 20% of time spent results in higher focus from your employees, you’ll be getting the utmost productive value from them.
Be Conscious of the Consequences
If left untreated, Repetitive Motion Injuries (RMIs), Repetitive Stress/Strain Injuries (RSIs), and Cumulative Trauma Disorders (CTDs) can result in movement limitations or impede your ability to perform routine tasks, sometimes permanently. Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) affect your soft tissue and can be brought about by consistent repetitive motions that accrue minor strains over time4. These minor strains then develop into damages to bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, bursae, or nerves. The most common causes for MSDs include improper posture, poor eating, typing incorrectly, or incorrect lifting4.
Pay attention to how you perform this types of tasks, and if you experience pain during any of these activities, whether mild or severe, it could be a symptom of an MSD. Deep or penetrating pain in your bones, causing aches throughout the body, is indicative of a direct injury that needs medical attention. Poor posture most often leads to muscle pain while tendonitis (tendon or ligament pain) is a result of a repetitive stress injury, like incorrect typing4. You’ll notice the pain become more severe when the motion is repeated, or when stretching that particular tendon.
Solutions are in Sight
Sit-stand workstations continue to rise in popularity due to their flexible ability to accommodate height differences as well as allow its user to switch between sitting and standing throughout the work day. Alternating between sitting and standing every few hours is the best way to maintain a balanced musculoskeletal system and decrease experienced levels of discomfort2. There are a variety of sit-stand workstations available to choose from in the current market:
Electric Workstations: This type of sit-stand desk is an entire workstation. That is, they are fully functional electric desks as opposed to an attachable accessory, making them a more expensive option. With just the touch of a button, they mechanically lift your entire workstation to any number of positions.
Monitor Arms: This is the most cost-effective solution for those looking to restructure their existing workspace. Monitor arms physically raise the monitor to a range of height options, while workspace lifts raise the entire workstation. They allow seamless movement to the height that best corresponds to the chosen keyboard height.
Articulating Arms: These replace existing stands for both the user’s keyboard and monitor. Keyboard arms increase your available movement to 20 inches and can swivel from left to right.
Ensuring ergonomic health produces only positive side effects! Enjoy a higher level of comfort, productivity and efficiency at work while investing in the future of your bones and muscles.
If you suspect you have symptoms resulting from a musculoskeletal disorder, see your doctor. Only he/she is qualified to treat or diagnose a condition.
The easiest way to treat symptoms from an MSD is to stop or change the motion that you suspect to be the problem. Don’t wait until it’s too late! Left untreated, these disorders can cause serious permanent damage to your body. Consider how your work affects particular parts of your body and whether you participate in activities that put you at risk for injury. Catching symptoms early on can save you from a diagnosis that describes your condition as irreversible later on. It’s in your hands to maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle in the workplace and while they may seem perfectly harmless, typing and sitting can take their toll on your bones, joints, and muscles. Protect yourself from the mundane and the repetitive. Take a fresh look at your workspace and enjoy that walk around the block, it’s good for you.
About Ergo Works
Ergo Works provides solutions for the workplace such as products, ergonomic workshop training, on-site workstation evaluations, workstation retrofitting, office space planning, and product evaluations aimed at preventing disorders resulting from computer usage and promoting a safe work environment.
- Rezende, Leandro Fórnias Machado, Thiago Hérick Sá¡, Grégore Iven Mielke, Juliana Yukari Kodaira Viscondi, Juan Pablo Rey-López, and Leandro Martin Totaro Garcia. “All-Cause Mortality Attributable to Sitting Time.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine2 (2016): 253-63. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. Web. 26 Mar. 2016. <http://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(16)00048-9/abstract>.
- Davis, K. G., and S. E. Kotowski. “Postural Variability: An Effective Way to Reduce Musculoskeletal Discomfort in Office Work.” Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society7 (2014): 1249-261.
- Bernaards, C. M., Ariëns, G. A., Simons, M., Knol, D. L., & Hildebrandt, V. H. (2008). Improving work style behavior in computer workers with neck and upper limb symptoms. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 18, 87–101.
- Bernard, B.P., ed. 1997 Musculoskeletal Disorders and Workplace Factors: A Critical Review of Epidemiologic Evidence for Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders of the Neck, Upper Extremity, and Low Back.Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.