Guest blog by Darcie Jaremey MSc CPE
Work-related disorders aren’t restricted to construction or warehousing. They can happen in all types of industries, especially offices. Office workers are also at risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) due to the nature of their work. Sitting in front of a desk and using the same muscles for a long period of time can be physically taxing on the body. However, taking rest breaks and incorporating movement can help ease the burden. There’s a lot of value in limiting the duration of posture—whether that posture is optimal or non-optimal. So in this post, I’ll be sharing with you a 4-step process for an extremely useful break strategy that you can do at work every day.
Movement Counteracts Sedentary Time
There’s a long established link between the highest reported discomfort and the most sedentary positions. Research has continually shown that office workers usually reported more discomfort compared to other jobs that require more physical tasks. Past research has also indicated a strong link between prolonged periods of sitting and user discomfort, specifically in data entry and call center operator positions. What’s interesting is that even the most ergonomic posture can also increase risk if held for a significant amount of time.
One way to prevent injuries and discomfort is to reduce the amount of prolonged sedentary activity by moving more throughout the workday. This is an obvious point, and it’s also backed by previous research. Additionally, some research found that productivity still improved by 10% even with taking more frequent breaks throughout the day. Understanding the risks of too much sitting is just half of the equation. Actually putting in place strategies that are practical for everyday life is what puts the research into productive motion.
But before I share with you the strategies for an effective break, I definitely recommend that you use the hierarchy of ergonomics controls. When it comes to controlling ergonomic risks in your workplace, your first priority should always be engineering solutions. This type of approach involves engineering out the risks by either making adjustments to your workstation or by bringing in other types of equipment that can help reduce the ergonomic risks. It’s important to have the right equipment and ensure that they’re correctly positioned. Once that’s done, you can incorporate behavioral solutions like break strategies. Finding a break schedule that works best for you depends on your work style. By incorporating some, or all 4 strategies below, you can effectively limit the effects of prolonged sitting.
The 4-Step Process for an Effective Break Strategy
- Use microbreaks
Taking frequent short breaks (5 minutes every hour) can help reduce static postures or repetitive tasks. There are a number of easy and effective measures you can take during these “microbreaks” to limit the risk of sedentary behavior. This includes walking to a coworker’s desk to hand-deliver information instead of sending emails, talking with a coworker for three minutes, taking a quick walk outside or even grabbing a cup of coffee. These small breaks allow you to recover from using the same set of muscles and reduce discomfort.
- Incorporate postural changes
When it comes to postural changes, the biggest value to reduce discomfort is to make large body movements within that 5-minute per hour break routine. This process involves changing the position of the entire body. So if the person is in a seated position, an appropriate postural change would be to stand up or take a quick walk. If the person is in a standing or sit-stand workstation, an appropriate posture change would be to sit or do a quick walk. One example of incorporating postural changes into your day is to stand up whenever you have to take a call. This allows postural change while maintaining your productivity.
- Stretching routine
Having a stretching routine in conjunction with engineering solutions can also be valuable. Stretching can be beneficial, but it’s even more essential to be set up comfortably at your desk. A properly adjusted workstation can prevent back pain among other problems. Here are some easy and quick stretching that you can do at work:
- Arm and shoulder stretch – interlace your fingers together and turn your palms facing out. Extend your arms in front of you and hold.
- Shoulder Roll – Roll your shoulders forward slowly in a circular motion. Do this five times. Then, roll your shoulders backwards.
- Neck stretch – Slowly tilt your head to the left, trying to touch your left ear to your left shoulder. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
- Sitting back extensions – Sit straight with your feet together. Place your palms into your lower back, then lean back over your hands.
- Make taking frequent breaks a habit
Getting into a routine of changing your posture or stepping away from your desk for a few minutes every hour is key in order to get the best outcomes. There are two ways to effectively get in the habit of taking short breaks: using a sit-stand workstation or a break reminder software.
The advantages of getting out of the chair frequently and incorporating movement throughout the workday are clear. Those few minutes spent standing or moving are valuable for your overall health. No matter how you move your body, incorporating these four break strategies can go a long way in minimizing the effects of sitting all day at work. More information on how to prevent office pain is available here.
Darcie Jaremey MSc CPE is the Founder of ergonomicsHelp.com. She is a Board Certified Professional Ergonomist (via the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomists) and a Registered Kinesiologist with a Master’s of Science degree. For the past 15 years, Darcie has leveraged her expertise to help organizations enhance their operations via effective ergonomics programs. Her passion is sharing her hard-earned tips, tricks and expertise with other Healthcare Professionals so that they can deliver excellent ergonomic services and be fully booked.