By: Ruth James
Regardless of how you work — whether it be at home, in the office, or a mix of both — you’re likely seated at your desk or even behind the wheel for the entire day. Though this might seem like a harmless thing to do, evidence over the past few years has revealed a disturbing new fact: sitting is the new smoking.
Prolonged sitting has you in the same fixed position for extended periods of time. This can stress your back and neck while weakening your bones and the muscles in your legs. Such issues can lead to something called work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Though it sounds like a mouthful, these disorders can impact your productivity at work and your overall wellbeing.
But what exactly are work-related MSDs, and how can they be prevented? We aim to answer these questions below.
In general, MSDs are disorders concerning the muscles, bones, and nerves that can cause persistent pain and affect your range of motion. Work-related MSDs are MSDs that come about as a result of work. They can be caused by constricted body positions, repetitive movements, and a lack of rest breaks between these movements.
MSDs can occur suddenly and be short-lived. For example, those working desk jobs and hunching over computers may experience a stiff neck and lower back pain for a few days. If they type for more than 20 hours a week, they may develop carpal tunnel syndrome, which can last for up to 6 weeks. Finally, we mentioned earlier that constricted body movements — like sitting for too long — can cause your bones to weaken and lead to osteoporosis or arthritis, conditions that last for even longer.
Take breaks to exercise
Standing up to stretch once in a while is one of the simplest ways to prevent work-related MSDs. Doing so every 20 to 30 minutes can help loosen your muscles and get your blood flowing. However, you can take it a step further and schedule regular exercise sessions, as well. It also delivers added benefits like more flexibility and pain relief. Meanwhile, sports like soccer, jogging, and swimming can strengthen your muscles and make them less prone to injury — all while being fun to do.
Apply heat or cold
Early signs of work-related MSDs include aches or pains that recede in the night. This can develop into pain that persists at all hours. If allowed to go even further, work-related MSDs will eventually cause fatigue and affect your ability to work. You can prevent this by applying a hot or cold compress to the affected areas. Heat can help with muscle pain by increasing blood flow and allowing the affected site to heal faster. Cold compresses better suit work-related MSDs with inflammatory effects, such as if parts of your body become swollen, red, or inflamed.
Improve how you work
Your workplace setup may be increasing your risk of developing work-related MSDs. Maybe your chair doesn’t promote proper posture. The height of your laptop or computer screen might not be at eye level, causing you to bend your neck downwards to look at it. We’ve previously discussed that an ergonomic workplace can prevent work related-strain and injury, all while keeping you comfortable. That being said, you may want to look into ergonomic chairs, keyboards, and mice as well as laptop or computer monitor stands. These all promote natural body positions to reduce the risk of MSDs.
Many jobs today require us to be seated for long periods of time or do repetitive motions constantly, putting most of us at risk for work-related MSDs. Hopefully, this quick guide on what these are — and how to prevent them — can help you stay productive at work while protecting your general wellbeing.
Article contributed by Ruth James
Exclusively for Smart Break
Ruth James is a business consultant and part-time writer. Her spare time is spent contributing to blogs, tending to her small garden, doing yoga and caring for her grandfather who has looked after her since she was young.