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The Impact of Ergonomics on The Lower Back by Megan Fryer, BSc (Physio) UFS

Updated: Jul 14, 2021

The Impact of Ergonomics on The Lower Back by Megan Fryer, BSc (Physio) UFS, of Debbie Cameron Physiotherapy

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are now working from home making correct ergonomics and posture even more important. Since the pandemic the percentage of employed South Africans working from home has risen from 4% to 38%. Post-pandemic, businesses in South Africa are predicting that many employees, almost 33%, will still be working from home. Further to this, an international study by Harvard Business School found that during the pandemic, when working from home, the average workday increased by 48.5 minutes. This can lead to an increase in the risk for developing sitting-induced lower back pain.

Ergonomics is the science applied to the physical and psychological principles in an environment in order to increase productivity and well-being. Physical ergonomics refers to human anatomy and factors that affect movement or posture. Lower-back pain has been linked to poor workplace ergonomics, especially due to long hours at a desk and performing repetitive actions.

Time, posture, and your environment are the main factors influencing the link between sitting and lower-back pain. Sustained sitting decreased variation of movement, and increased use of the spinal muscles when in awkward positions are the primary causes of sitting-induced lower-back pain.

Research has shown that moving every 20 minutes can decrease the likelihood of developing sitting-induced lower-back pain. Thus, taking breaks from sitting or changing positions can help prevent lower-back pain, where shorter, more frequent breaks are better than fewer, longer ones.

The way one sits is also important - a good sitting position when at your desk is vital.

Here are some tips outlining good sitting posture:

· Sit with your lower back supported.

· Your weight should be evenly distributed through both hips.

· Your feet should be flat on the floor and your knees slightly lower than your hips.

· Your arms should make an “L” shape and your wrists should be straight.

· Your screen should be at eye level and your keyboard straight in front of you. You can also leave a space of 10 - 15cm from the edge of your desk to rest your wrists when you are not typing.

You can alter your environment, wherever possible, in order to optimise your sitting posture.

Here are some environmental adaptations to consider:

· Adjust the height of your desk or chair.

· Use of a footrest if your feet don’t touch the floor.

· Additional back / lumbar support if needed.

· Keep your mouse close to you and use a mouse pad to avoid awkward wrist movements.

· Have objects you use often, such as the phone or stapler, nearby to avoid repetitive reaching / stretching.

· If you spend a lot of time on the phone, try using a headset.

· If you wear bifocals and you find yourself having to raise or lower your head to see your monitor, please consult your optician. These actions can put strain on your neck and back.

Physiotherapy will help should you be experiencing sitting-induced lower-back pain.

Physiotherapy interventions include:

· Education on postural awareness

· Discouraging long sedentary period

· Prescribing appropriate exercises

· Recommending assistive devices / equipment.

Increased incidences of sitting-induced lower-back pain has led to the development of various assistive devices that help improve your posture and reduce lower back pain. These include lumbar-support devices, back braces, and standing tables. However, it is always better to first consult with your physiotherapist regarding the most effective corrective device/s for your specific workspace.

If you are experiencing back pain, contact Debbie Cameron Physiotherapy on 031 765 8898 to book a session with one of our physiotherapists. Debbie Cameron Physiotherapy is based at the Centenary Medical Centre, 55 Old Main Road, Gillitts, and at the Hillcrest Medical Centre.


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