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Health: Avoid MSD for high performance > Dr. Oludiya Olamitan > August, 2015

Executives in many professions sit most of the day. They sit having breakfast; while going to work in cars or buses, in meetings, in offices, during dinner and at home watching television. While sitting takes less physical effort than standing or walking, it puts a lot of stress on the lumbar area. Sitting over a long period can lead to many health problems and keeping a wrong siting position at work can affect a person’s spinal health and expose the body to progressive injuries like Musculoskeletal Disorders, MSD and chronic pain, particularly lower back pain.

While studies show MSD cases accounted for 33% of all worker injury and illness, lower back pain has been cited as the fifth most common reason patients visit a physician.

Occupational health therapists say good spinal health is essential and the key to living an active long life. MSD risk factors at work include lifting heavy items, bending, reaching overhead, pushing and pulling heavy loads, working in awkward body postures and performing the same or similar tasks repetitively. Work related MSDs, including those of the neck, upper extremities and lower back pain are the leading causes of lost workday; the chronic pain diminishes human capabilities to lead normal lives.

Sitting for long periods of time has been linked with weight gain, poor posture and back problems and studies show that it is also linked to reduced productivity. Experts say standing for 20% of the day can improve productivity and reduce body aches by 20%.
While lower back pain, in most cases, can be traced to stress on the lumbar region, some cases are not mere back ache but unusual and the reason most physicians would result to investigations when pain persists to check for possible metastatic or cancerous deposits in the spine, particularly when patients have difficulties performing routine activities or could not walk.

Patients’ medical histories provide major clues to potential diagnosis and doctors would confirm the onset, location, quality and radiation of the pain; factors that relieve or aggravate the pain and associated symptoms. Mechanical low back pain is characterized by increased pain in motion and decreased pain at rest, whereas the pain of non-mechanical low back pain generally occurs at rest and is less affected by motion they could be accompanied with fever, weight loss, nocturnal pain and morning stiffness.

Most people suffering back pain will get better with simple measures like ice compress, mild painkillers, physical therapy and proper exercises and recover within four to six weeks. The popular misbelief that sufferers need to rest and avoid activity for a long time is not recommended. When there is no sign of a serious cause for the back pain, such as loss of bowel or bladder control, weakness, weight loss, or fever, the sufferers need to stay as active as possible. Though activities may be reduced only for the first couple of days, usual activities should be started slowly. Lifting heavy objects or twisting the back should be avoided, though gradual exercise is a must.


Light aerobic training, walking, riding a stationary bicycle and swimming are examples. These aerobic activities improve blood flow to the back and promote healing. They also strengthen the stomach and back muscles. Stretching and strengthening exercises are also important though these are better done under the supervision of a physical therapist.

Regular exercise is important to lower the chance of getting back pain. Also, maintaining right postures while standing or sitting, losing weight, not smoking and avoiding falls prevent back pain. It is not advisable to stand for prolonged periods and if standing is unavoidable, it is advisable to alternate resting each foot on a stool. Other recommended measures are:

Avoid high heels, use cushioned soles when walking.

Ensure office chairs have straight back and adjustable seats for people working on the computer.

Keep knees higher than your hips while sitting by placing feet on a stool.

Use a small pillow behind lower back while sitting or driving for long periods. People who drive long distances need to stop and walk around during trips. Vehicle seats should be as near the steering as possible to avoid bending and heavy objects should not be lifted after a long ride.

Relaxation,  yoga exercises, tai chi and massage are good.

Most occupational therapists would recommend using ergonomic devices, particularly the chair to put the body in the most correct position while at work. Working in an office typically involves spending a great deal of time sitting in an office chair, a position that adds stress to the structures in the spine. To avoid developing or compounding back problems, it's important to have an office chair that is ergonomic and that supports the lower back and promotes good posture, since a suitable chair is a critical step in preventing health problems in people who work in a sitting position.

Some mandatory features for a good office chair include:

Adjustability - Chair heights should be adjustable.

Seat height range - Seat heights should be adjustable to the comfort heights of the workers who uses the chairs.

Backrest – Adjustable backrest for vertical, frontward and backward direction with firm lumbar support.

Seat depth - Seats should suit the tallest and the shortest users.
Stability - Stable chairs with five-point bases are recommended.



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