How to disrupt desk distress

Campaign seeks to disrupt desk distress for ailing workers, patients

The silent wares of office work has osteopathic physicians worried, especially given recent research which pegs two out of three desk-bound Americans with frequent physical pain due to their positioning.

The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) conducted a sweep of the nation’s workforce to gauge discomfort from behind the keyboard and found, among other things, that 1 in 4 professionals characterized their pain as a standard occupational hazard — a designation with potentially dangerous side effects and connotations, researchers argue.

"Sitting at a desk all day can take a serious toll on your body, and with busy work schedules and full family lives many office workers don't seek help to prevent or treat their pain until it reaches the point where it interferes with their ability to do their job without the added distraction of constant pain," said Rob Danoff, DO, an AOA board-certified family physician with Aria Health System, in a news release. "I want to encourage everyone to get up and move. Take the long route to the printer or walk up the stairs instead of using the elevator. Making these small changes now will have a great impact on your overall health."

The AOA study identified the following prominent pain triggers for workplace aches:

All information and data courtesy of the AOA. Presentation by PhysBizTech.

Other important findings include:

  • Seventy percent of office workers spend five-plus hours sitting at their desks each day.
  • Nearly all (94 percent) office workers can name work habits that boost their chances of pain.
  • Remaining sedentary throughout the day is the most common habit among office workers, with 2 in 5 admitting they wouldn't get up from their desks if they needed to talk to a colleague.
  • Half of all office workers work out fewer than 30 minutes each day, if at all.

In light of such startling outcomes, the AOA has launched a “Break Through Your Pain” campaign as a means to encourage office workers to acknowledge their distress and move to ameliorate it. The organization encourages physicians to relay the below tips to patients and applicable members of practice staff as a means to battle chronic pain at work head on:

  1. Don't slouch. Sit up straight and don't hunch over your computer to engage your abdominal muscles and reduce strain on your back.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Avoid the mouse trap. As you type and move your mouse, make sure your elbows stay close to your body and your wrists are not bending too far forwards or backwards. 
  5. Get up, stand up. Set an alert on your calendar or phone for every 30 minutes to remind yourself to take a stretch break.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.  

"Whether pain is caused by habits at work or at home, it can have a significant physical and psychological impact. That's why it's so important to find a physician you feel comfortable speaking with who can effectively treat your pain," concluded Lisa A. DeStefano, DO, MD, co-spokesperson for the "Break Through Your Pain" campaign. "Since every individual is different, a physician can help develop a personalized pain management plan that best fits your life in and outside the office."

Find more about the study and the campaign here.