Tension in the lower back, pain in the wrists, shoulder pain - these ailments are common for people who do office work. The problem is not related to sitting posture per se or working at a computer, but to immobility or certain postures maintained for prolonged periods during the day. The body is designed to move, and move regularly. So there's no position, however adequate, that's perfect if you hold it for 40 hours a week! In the same vein, any repetitive movement, especially in the wrists and hands due to the mouse, for example, exposes you to a greater risk of overuse injury. According to the Ministry of Recreation, Education and Sport, an overuse injury occurs when the amount of mechanical stress applied to an area of the body exceeds its ability to adapt. What we're talking about here is tendonitis, a common complaint among office workers.
A few preventive tips
Check workstation ergonomics
Occupational therapists are the specialists of choice for advice tailored to your particular situation. They usually offer to come to your office to check that everything is optimal, particularly in relation to your physiognomy. If you don't have access to such services, here are some key points to consider:
Getting the right office chair
The chair should have forearm support and multiple adjustments (levers to adjust seat height and back tilt). The backrest should support the lower back to help keep the pelvis in anteversion (instead of retroversion, which creates a rounded back). Armrests should be adjustable to elbow height, allowing the arms to fall naturally to either side of the body.
Make sure you have a suitable desk.
There must be sufficient space between the desk and the seat of the chair. What's more, the desk's work surface should be at elbow height.
In short, you'll know your ergonomics are probably good if your feet can rest firmly on the floor, your lower back is supported, the top of your screen is at eye level, your neck is straight and your keyboard and desk work surface are at elbow height.
If you have a full-time office job, you're generally considered to be sedentary, and unfortunately it's not enough to compensate with more sport at the weekend. Studies are clear: you need to move regularly to prevent the onset of physical ailments. This will activate blood and lymph circulation, lubricate joints, relieve tension and prevent aches and pains linked to a sedentary lifestyle. A little trick is to set an alarm to remind you to move for at least 5 minutes every hour. You can also schedule a walking or sports break during the day to make it a priority.
Vary your tasks
Since overuse injuries can occur when you often perform the same movement, think about how you can better distribute your tasks throughout the day. For example, instead of planning a full day of data entry, this task could be interspersed with a video meeting or call with colleagues where you don't have to use the mouse. This also helps to banish monotony.
Consider the sit-stand desk
These height-adjustable desks can be a wise investment to change your working position. Bear in mind, however, that what's harmful is not sitting or standing, but rather maintaining the same posture for too long.
Telecommuting: stay active!
The reality of face-to-face work means there are more frequent short breaks: Discussions with colleagues over the coffee machine, the lunchtime walk, the trip to the office, the stairs to climb, and so on. In telecommuting, everything is easily and quickly accessible, and opportunities to move around and take breaks may be less frequent. So it's important to take coffee breaks like you do at work, even if it means sweeping up in the kitchen and, of course, resisting the temptation to work on the sofa or kitchen table!
Relieve muscular tension
Don't delay in taking action
Pain is a signal sent by the body that there is a future danger of injury. The longer you ignore this signal, the more difficult it is to treat the pain. Let's take the case of lower back pain, for example. According to the Clinique des Lombalgies Interdisciplinaire en Première Ligne (CLIP), the likelihood of returning to work decreases with the duration of disability related to low back pain. Thus, in the case of low back pain that has been present for 4 weeks or less, the probability of returning to work is 80 to 100%. For lower back pain that has been present for 4 to 12 weeks, the probability drops to 60 to 80%, and finally, for lower back pain that has persisted for more than 12 weeks, it would be less than 60%.
Tips for relieving tension
Regular stretching can help relieve present or future tension associated with office work. The CNESST website presents some of these exercises in an easy-to-image way: https://www.cchst.ca/oshanswers/ergonomics/office/stretching.html#:~:text=Allonger%20le%20bras%20et%20la,a%20un%20sentiment%20d'%C3%A9tirement.
Massage balls and self-massage
Massage balls are simply fabulous. Smaller balls can be interesting for targeting specific areas of tension and muscle knots in narrower muscles, such as those of the shoulder blades, certain paraspinal vertebrae or even the small muscles of the forearms. The smaller ones also have the particularity of being able to fit quite well into more restricted areas, such as between the dorsal spine and the lateral edge of the shoulder blade, or even the neck muscles. For back strain, simply lean against a wall and support yourself against the ball. Be careful, however, never to put pressure on the bones of the spine. Different types of massage ball are available at most physiotherapy clinics.
With fatigue and prolonged sitting often comes a typical, slightly bent posture. The back is round, the pelvis retroverted and the head falls forward. This position compresses the internal organs and can end up hindering optimal digestion and breathing in particular. Simply remembering to take deep abdominal breaths will help to loosen the spine and lengthen the back.
If your muscles are aching, but you still have to work all day in a seated posture, you can buy a small heating blanket. Place the blanket against the back of your chair and work away the tension!
[i] CLIP, Guide de pratique, Clinique des Lombalgies Interdisciplinaire en première ligne,http://www.csst.qc.ca/professionnels-de-la-sante/medecins/Documents/CLIPLombalgiesGuide2006.pdf, 2006, p. 12