Back pain is a pressing issue in South Africa, as highlighted by a study conducted by the South African Society of Physiotherapy, revealing that around 80% of the population experiences back pain at some point in their lives. This problem is not limited to South Africa alone; it is a global concern, particularly among office workers. Prolonged sitting and poor posture are major contributing factors to back pain in this occupational group.

Acknowledging the severity of this problem is crucial, and measures must be taken to mitigate the risk. Office workers should take frequent breaks to stretch and move around. Employers must provide ergonomic seating and office equipment designed to reduce the risk of back pain. Seeking professional help, such as physiotherapy, can also play a significant role in treating the condition and improving an individual’s overall quality of life.

Studies in developed countries report that low back pain (LBP) affects between 75% and 84% of the general population during their lifetime, making it a common condition. Around 90% of upper and lower back pain cases have non-specific causes, making it challenging to pinpoint the exact source of discomfort. Consequently, back pain ranks as the second most common reason for work absenteeism after the common cold, resulting in substantial financial impact due to healthcare costs and productivity losses.

Early intervention, creating ergonomic workstations, seeking appropriate treatment, and adopting healthy lifestyle habits can help prevent back pain and reduce absenteeism effectively.

Causes of Upper and Lower Back Pain:

  • Muscular: Overuse or straining of the muscles supporting the spine, leading to pain or discomfort, e.g., muscle and ligament strains, muscle spasms, and repetitive stress injuries.
  • Skeletal Problems of the Spine: Conditions like disc damage, joint and bone degeneration, skeletal deformities, stress fractures, and osteoporosis can significantly impact spinal alignment and movement, resulting in severe back pain.
  • Pinched Nerves or Nerve Pressure: Pressure on nerves in the back can cause pain in different areas, such as sciatica and nerve damage in the shoulder or back.
  • Other Factors: Internal organ problems, obesity, mental stress, anxiety, and genetics can also contribute to back pain.

7 Factors Increasing the Risk of Back Pain Among Office Workers:

  1. Incorrect sitting posture due to extended sitting hours. What is the correct ergonomic height for my desk, computer monitor and office chair?
  2. Increased pressure on back muscles and spinal discs from static posture and slouching. Back support for an office chair – why it’s important.
  3. Poor ergonomic setup of workstations and equipment leading to awkward positions. Best practices for ergonomics in the workplace.
  4. Poor posture, including forward or slumped sitting, causing upper and lower back, shoulder, and neck pain.
  5. Lack of movement and prolonged sitting causing weakened muscles and stiffness.
  6. Jobs involving repetitive reaching, twisting, and bending, contributing to severe back pain.
  7. Work-related stress and tension leading to muscle tightness and upper back and neck pain.

8 Ways to Prevent Back Pain in the Office:

  1. Practice good posture by sitting up straight with shoulders back. What is a good sitting position at the office?
  2. Take frequent breaks to move around every 30-40 minutes.
  3. Incorporate stretching exercises into your daily routine to improve flexibility and muscle balance.
  4. Use ergonomic equipment, including chairs with proper lumbar support and adjustable workstations.
  5. Consider using a sit-stand or height-adjustable desk to reduce sitting time.
  6. Engage in regular physical activity outside of work to strengthen spine-supporting muscles.
  7. Prioritise mental health with stress-reducing techniques like meditation or deep breathing exercises.
  8. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.

In conclusion, addressing back pain in South Africa and globally requires proactive measures to maintain good posture, stay active, and implement ergonomic practices in the workplace. Seeking medical attention for persistent or severe back pain is essential to identify underlying causes and receive appropriate treatment. By taking these steps, individuals can effectively manage and prevent back pain, improving work productivity and overall well-being.

To speak to an Office Ergonomics Risk Facilitator contact us on 011 392 6803 or email [email protected]

Article first seen on Karo’s Knowledge Centre – click here for the full article.