Back pain is one of the most common reasons for people missing work, or being unable to undertake routine tasks. Our desk jobs might be filling our pockets, but at what cost to our health? Ailish Fleming investigates
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we will begin. Musculoskeletal disorders, related to back and neck pain, are the second largest cause of disability worldwide. A study published in the British Medical journal has shown that increasing incidence is directly correlated to a more sedentary lifestyle.
“You sit at school, at university and then in your professional life. The trouble is we are not designed to sit,” says Dr Hakim of Muscat’s Finland Osteopathy clinic.
Sitting places an enormous amount of pressure on the vertebrae of the lower back, concentrating all your weight in that area. It also decreases blood circulation and discourages us from engaging our core muscles – a combination that can lead to accelerated deterioration of health over time.
In fact, the very act of sitting puts us atop a health time bomb, according to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The study stated that men who spent longer than six hours sitting were 17 per cent more likely to die during that time than men who sat for less than three hours. For women that risk increased to 34 per cent.
Introducing the sit-stand desk. Winston Churchill and Ernest Hemingway both did their best work standing up and now they’re slowly being introduced into workplaces.
Offices in countries such as Finland and Denmark have already implemented them across the board and having seen them in action, Dr Hakim firmly believes they’re a great way to address back pain problems.
Asked if they are a viable option for Oman, Dr. Hakim said that he’d already found some in Ikea, although he admits, “They aren’t as good as what I’ve seen in Finland.” Problems posed by cost and space are surpassed by long-term benefits. “People will save more money, and their lives, by protecting their health now,” according to Dr Hakim and so it seems like a no-brainer.
While standing also causes back pain, it’s the lesser of two evils, Dr Hakim explains, “standing means weight is more evenly distributed, your blood also circulates and you have more control of your body. Most importantly you have a tendency to move more and this is the key.”
In addition to improving our health, standing desks have the potential to increase productivity among employees as Dr Hakim highlights, “standing is more socially interactive. You’re more likely to move around and talk to people when you’re standing. You’re more productive in your interaction with people.”
In a study called ‘Get Up, Stand Up’, researchers found a non-sedentary workspace enhances the extent to which people engage in “collaborative information elaboration”, which can only mean good things for employers.
“Stand, get up and move. Printers should be at the opposite end of the office so you have to move around to pick up material,” says Dr Hakim, “movement is essential to maintaining muscular strength, which in turn protects our spines.”
While deterioration over time is natural and unstoppable, there are ways in which we can slow it down. Physical activity is the answer – walking is great exercise for all ages, but to really tap into your muscles’ potential and protect your spine, try and incorporate the following into your daily routine:
90 per cent of us lean forward during the day, which accumulates a lot of pressure and causes stress to the spine. Back extensions reverse this, particularly the cobra pose. You don’t even have to sit, just push against a wall, while pushing your hips forward.
Hug your knee to your chest and then repeat on the other side. You could also add in a twist to the side to release pressure.
Water is essential for our muscles to function and our blood to circulate properly. Living in such a warm climate means an increased consumption of water is essential to keep our bodies functioning at their full potential. The more the better!