For many office workers, physical pain is a serious, yet unaddressed health issue. New research from the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) reveals that the majority of Americans who work in an office are experiencing physical pain with some frequency, and nearly 1 in 4 believe it's just a standard part of having an office job.
This misperception can lead office workers to ignore or undertreat their pain until it interferes with their ability to do their job. Chronic pain, or pain that affects a person's life for a longer period of time than it would be normally expected to heal (usually more than three months), can disrupt an office worker's mood, sleep, attitude, social life, emotional health and work productivity.
In fact, the AOA survey found that 3 in 10 office workers lose two or more hours a month on work-related tasks because of pain - that's equivalent to three workdays a year. Overall, according to the Institute of Medicine, the annual cost of lost workplace productivity due to pain is over $297 billion.
As employers today place a spotlight on chronic health conditions, addressing pain in the workplace should be a key component of any wellness initiative. Employers can start by better understanding key pain triggers and equipping office workers with the knowledge and tools they need to prevent and ease pain at work.
Workplace Pain Triggers
The office environment offers numerous opportunities to trigger physical pain, including the five or more hours that 70 percent of office workers spend sitting at their desks each day - that's more than a quarter of their waking lives. This does not include the time sitting while commuting to and from work, or time spent sitting at home.
Remaining sedentary throughout the day is the most common habit among office workers, with 2 in 5 admitting they wouldn't even get up from their desks if they needed to talk to a colleague. Even when office workers arrive home, staying active isn't a priority. Half of all office workers workout fewer than 30 minutes each day, if at all.
Office workers also recognize other habits at work that increase their chances of pain, including hunching over a desk (61%), sitting in an uncomfortable chair (58%), staring at a computer monitor (46%) and using a computer mouse (38%). These habits contribute to pain most often in the low back, followed by the neck, shoulders and wrists.
Get Up and Get Moving
Preventing these work habits that contribute to pain doesn't require special office equipment. Making small changes to a workspace and an office workers' daily routine can have a great impact on their overall health. Employers should help office workers keep the following tips in mind to prevent and ease pain throughout the workday:
- Listen to Mom, Don't Slouch: Sit up straight and don't hunch over your computer to engage your abdominal muscles and reduce strain on your back.
- Keep Feet Flat on the Floor: Put both feet flat on the floor and the rest of your body will respond and improve your posture.
- Keep Those Eyes Straight Ahead: Place your computer monitor to where the top of the screen is at eye level to reduce strain on your neck muscles.
- Avoid The Mouse Trap: As you type and move your mouse, make sure your elbows stay close to your body with your forearms flat on a level arm rest. This makes it easier for your wrists to be even with the keyboard, ensuring they are not bending too far forwards or backwards.
- Get Up, Stand Up: Set an alert on your calendar or phone for every 30 minutes to remind yourself to take a stretch break.
- Visit a Neighbor: Walk to a colleague's desk to speak with him or her in-person, instead of emailing or calling. For longer conversations, hold a walking meeting.
- Take the Road Less Traveled: If possible, don't take the elevator when you arrive at the office, take a few extra minutes to climb the stairs to get your blood flowing.
Reducing pain in the office is smart for business. Pain is not something that can be "worked through," as ignoring or undertreating it will just lead to more pain - creating a debilitating cycle. By breaking this pain cycle today, employers will not only improve overall employee health, but increase productivity, which directly impacts a company's bottom line.
About the Author
Rob Danoff, DO, is an AOA board-certified family physician with Aria Health System in Philadelphia and co-spokesperson for the AOA's "Break Through Your Pain" campaign. "Break Through Your Pain" is a public education campaign to help Americans be productive and pain-free with the tips, tools and advice they need to prevent and relieve pain available at www.osteopathic.org/pain.