Stretches and short walks are the best way to prevent muscle and back injuries.

Prevention Better than Tension in the Workplace

For employers, the prevalence of back pain in the office is a significant barrier to productivity. Employees are at their most productive state when they are healthy, happy, and pain free.

They say prevention is better than cure. With approximately 30 to 40 percent of all workplace absences in Canada due to back pain, Canadian employers and their counterparts elsewhere are increasingly looking for ways to prevent workplace-related injuries and keep employees healthy, happy, and productive.

Because I run two busy physical therapy and exercise clinics in Toronto, I know all too well how common back injuries are in the workplace. I have clients regularly booking appointments to treat back pain and workplace injuries. Back pain is one of the most common workplace injuries and a direct result of long work hours and incorrect workplace ergonomics and practices. Heavy lifting, carrying excess weight, sitting in the same position for too long (i.e., in front of the computer), and repetitive strain injuries can all lead to episodes of back pain and long-term back injuries. In fact, back pain has now become one of the leading workplace illnesses in North America and a primary cause of workplace absence.

For employers, the prevalence of back pain in the office is a significant barrier to productivity. Employees are at their most productive state when they are healthy, happy, and pain free. The good news is that back pain and workplace injuries can be prevented -- at home, in the office, and while on the road. By incorporating a combination of different exercises into the workday, improving workplace ergonomics, and through the implementation of scientifically based ergonomic products, back pain can be stopped in its tracks.

Prevention Strategies
Prevention should start with ensuring employees are equipped with information on how to prevent strains and injuries while at their workstation. I have provided the following tips on how to set up the workstation for maximum productivity and health. (October is National Healthy Workplace Month in Canada, by the way).

  • Chair height: Adjust your chair's height to match standing knee height. When sitting in the chair, make sure your feet are flat on the floor and you are sitting to the back of the chair.
  • Chair depth: When you sit at the back of your chair, two or three fingers should fit between the back of your legs and the front of your chair.
  • Posture: By sitting in a slightly reclined position, you can help relieve tension in your lower back. Ensure the natural curve in your back is supported. Many chairs today don't come with the appropriate sitting structure for back health. By using a backrest support, the back support molds your spine into a more anatomically correct position, helping to enhance overall posture by supporting proper spinal alignment. Adjusting the armrests to achieve a relaxed arm position. It is recommended to use the armrests between typing sessions, rather than during.
  • Take breaks: Take regular breaks throughout the workday to help prevent muscle stiffness and pain. This will boost circulation and you will actually feel less stressed. A one-minute break for performing a postural relief exercise is recommended every 30 minutes.
  • Monitor height and distance: Ensure your monitor is right in front of you and your line of vision is approximately five to eight centimeters from the top of the screen. Position the monitor approximately one arm's length away. Try a document holder if you are referring to documents while typing regularly to avoid repeated neck movements and strain on your shoulders, neck, and back.

Additionally, stretches and short walks are the best way to prevent muscle and back injuries. Taking a couple of minutes every 30 minutes or so to stretch and rest the body will go a long way toward preventing those aches and pains at the end of a long day.

A great way to ensure employees and employers are equipped with the best preventative stretches and exercises is to post these exercises at every workstation to keep them top of mind. Additionally, taking employees through group stretching sessions once a month or so is a great way to ensure all employees know how to do the exercises properly.

Workplace Stretches
The best stretches to incorporate into the workday to help in preventing workplace back and health problems include:

  • Micro-break/Brugger Postural Relief Exercise: Stand up out of the chair, reach for the ceiling, push for the ceiling with the hands, and then fully and deeply inhale. This process should take about half a minute. Gentle and progressive extension of the lumbar spine is achieved, dispelling the accumulated stresses.
  • Side neck stretch: Standing upright, slowly drop your head to the left, trying to touch your left ear to your left shoulder, without elevating your shoulder to your ear. Keep shoulders in a relaxed position and hold for approximately 30 seconds. Repeat a few times on each side.
  • Upper arm stretch: Hold left elbow with right hand and gently pull elbow behind the head until you feel a stretch, hold for approximately 30 seconds, and repeat a few times on each side. Repeat with the other arm and complete each stretch five times.

The final step toward preventing workplace injuries is to ensure each workstation is well equipped with high-quality ergonomic work products. Ergonomic products are strategically designed to limit the stress and strain on our bodies by enhancing comfort and support. We spend the majority of our day at work, so it is vital that the right equipment is available to each and every employee. For example, sitting in the wrong position in front of a computer, day in and day out, 12 months a year, can have detrimental health effects on the body in the long term.

We take vitamins to enhance our well-being, brush our teeth to prevent cavities, and exercise to prevent obesity, so it only makes sense to use the correct back rest to prevent back and body injuries. ObusForme is just one of the companies offering a range of ergonomic products designed to prevent injury at work, simply by incorporating the products into the workplace. The ObusForme Lowback Backrest Support Cushion transforms an ordinary chair into an ergonomically correct seating system by molding the spine into a more anatomically correct position and supporting proper spinal alignment. This can have a tremendous effect on an employees' productivity.

Having an ergonomic back cushion in the trunk or office storage closet is a handy asset that brings many benefits to business and individuals.

It is important for both employee and employer to recognize the significance of preventing issues such as back pain at work. While the above exercises, tips, and product examples are a good guideline for protecting employees from workplace injuries, the onus is on the individual to apply these practices during the workday.

About the Author

Dr. Sender Deutsch is a chiropractor, acupuncture practitioner, certified strength and conditioning specialist, Active Release Techniques ® Soft Tissue Treatment (ART®) provider, and certified golf fitness instructor who has developed a revolutionary approach to chiropractic care, physical therapy, and personal training known as Integrated Therapy and Training (ITT). He is co-founder and clinic director at SHAPE Health & Wellness Centres in Toronto. The SHAPE team of health care practitioners and top Toronto fitness trainers offer a full range of evidenced-based health and fitness services. Dr. Deutsch provides therapy and training to weekend warriors, homemakers, CEOs, and professional athletes who desire improved health, wellness, physical performance, and quality of life. He utilizes the latest research in conditioning with physical rehabilitation -- medical acupuncture, (ART®), manual and physical therapy -- for personalized treatment plans through a collaborative and multidisciplinary approach to patient management. Patients with musculoskeletal and orthopedic problems are given personalized and timely treatment with careful monitoring to ensure success.

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