If "sitting is the new smoking," what are office workers to do?
For millions of Americans, an average workday means sitting at a desk and computer for eight or more hours. This type of work can lead to a host of musculoskeletal problems such as back pain, spinal disc hernias, carpal tunnel syndrome, neck and shoulder pain and more.
"For someone who sits at a desk all day, there are things that can be done to combat the effects of sitting," said Anita Addlesberger, a registered occupational therapist and certified ergonomic specialist at Franciscan Health Crown Point. "First, get up and move every half hour. Taking a quick walk around the office or stretching at your desk can greatly help. Second, take time to arrange your workspace in an ergonomically correct way. Third, pay attention to your movements like posture, leaning and straining."
Workplace ergonomics attempts to reduce strain, fatigue and injuries by improving product design and workspace arrangements, such as properly positing your chair, keyboard and monitor. Having an ergonomically correct workspace can result in less body strain, slouching, twisting and reaching, which can cause musculoskeletal problems and pain over time.
"We see a lot of patients with neck, shoulder and back problems as a result of desk jobs," says Addlesberger. "They are always surprised how much better they feel after setting up their workspace correctly. It really does make a big difference."
Keyboard and Mouse
In addition to musculoskeletal problems, prolonged sitting also causes long-term health problems, such as obesity, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar and abnormal cholesterol levels. In fact, a newly published medical study has shown that sitting for excessive periods of time is a risk factor for early death.
Prolonged sitting can cause:
Research has also shown that exercising a few hours each week does not seem to significantly offset the damage. Addlesberger says moving as much as possible throughout the day can help ward off the dangers of sitting. Her tips include:
By Anita Addlesberger
Registered Occupational Therapist and Certified Ergonomic Specialist, Franciscan Health Crown Point