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Stress and Neck Pain

Who of you find that at the end of a day at work, your neck or shoulders are sore or aching?  Neck pain is so common, that between 30-50% of the population will suffer from it at some point, and office workers are even more at risk of developing neck pain.

Neck Pain
Image by J. Heuser under Licence CC BY 3.0

There are a number of reasons why neck pain is so common, particularly amongst office workers.  Let’s look at a few of the reasons why:

  1.  Poor computer ergonomics (Read this post about 4 monitor positions that can cause neck pain)

The way that you sit at your desk and use your technology has a large impact on your physical posture and can either relieve or create neck or lower back pain.  The posture that you sustain for extended periods of time will have a knock on effect on your muscles, joints, circulation of the blood, circulation of your nervous system and importantly, the ability of your lungs to expand and thus oxygenate your brain.  Are you enabling all these systems to work well or are you compromising them through your posture and creating neck or lower back pain?

2.  Not enough work breaks (Read this post about micro breaks in the work place)

When we work too long and too hard without breaking our work up into bite size chunks, we deplete our energy and our concentration levels and reduce our effectiveness, but, we also tire our bodies out more than we otherwise would that could lead us to developing neck or lower back pain.  In fact, research has shown that a lack of micro breaks throughout the day results in a higher risk of developing aches and pains.  Hmmm, who would’ve thought?  and it’s the one thing I’ve noticed about South Africans – we don’t pace ourselves.  This is really not good for our health.

3.  Not enough movement throughout your day (view our ergonomic desk exercise software that will help you correct your computer ergonomics and perform desk exercises throughout your day)

Ah, who feels like moving when they’re tired?  I must confess that I’ve had more than my fair share of couch potato moments.  Not only that, most of us hate breaking our work rhythm when we’re on a roll.  However, exercising regularly (on a daily basis or even once a day) is great for us in soooooo many ways.  Moving helps relieve tension that has built up in our tissues.  It also improves our circulation and helps protect us from aches and pains.  It is good for stress relief and for our general health/cardiovascular system.  Overall, if you are suffering from neck or lower back pain, exercise can help you reduce it.

An interesting thing I’ve noticed in my work is that even if someone has a really bad computer setup causing them to sit in an awful posture, if that person moves every hour, they invariably don’t get the aches and pains their colleagues who don’t move and sit in the same position do get.

Furthermore, moving throughout your day keeps your mind fresh and helps you perform better at your job.  Taking active micro breaks is definitely worth considering in your work day!

4.  And Stress!

Stress, stress, stress.  The silent killer.  The thing in our life that can take everything that’s good and run it down.

Researchers have discovered that working under time pressures and deadlines have a significant association with the development of neck pain.  They’ve also shown that if you are being managed by someone who has a poor leadership style, you’re also more likely to suffer from muscular aches and pains.  Eina!

And lastly, if you are experiencing psychosocial stress, you are also more likely than your peers to be experiencing neck and shoulder pain.

 

stress
“Stress” by Jean Pierre Gallot under Licence CC BY 2.0

So, how can you help yourself?

  1. You can correct your computer ergonomics (click here to view software that can help you correct your computer ergonomics yourself)
  2.  You can take more breaks and move more at your desk (click here to view software that can help you perform 30 second exercises at your desk)
  3.  You can find ways to deal with your stress (click here to find FREE resources to help you deal with your stress)

Dealing with stress is not easy.  It’s a process that requires learning new skills and looking at our life and situations in new and different ways.  If you are suffering from stress, you owe it to yourself to find ways to reduce its detrimental affect on your life.

 

References

Ariens G.A.M., Bongers P.M., Hoogendoorn W.E., Houtman I.L.D., van der Wal G., van Mechelen W. 2001. “High quantitative job demands and low coworker support as risk factors for neck pain.” Spine 26 (17): 1896-1903

Bongers P.M., Ijmker S., van den Heuvel S., Blatter B.M. 2006. “Epidemiology of work related neck and upper limb problems: Psychosocial and personal risk factors (Part I) and effective interventions from a bio behavioural perspetive (Part II).” Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation 16: 279-302.

Gawke J.C., Gorgievski M.J., van der Linden D. 2012. “Office Work and Complaints of the Arms, Neck and Shoulders: The Role of Job Characteristics, Muscular Tension and Need for Recovery.” Journal of Occupational Health 54: 323–330.

Ferreira Jr M., Saldiva P.H.N. 2002. “computer-telephone interactive tasks: predictors of musculoskeletal disorders according to work analysis and workers’ perception.” Applied Ergonomics 33 (2): 147-153.

Fjell Y., Osterberg M., Alexanderson K., Karlqvist L., Bildt C. 2007. “Appraised leadership styles, psychosocial work factors, and musculoskeletal pain among public employees.” International Archive of Occupational and Environmental Health 81 (1): 19-30.

 

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Ergonomics and Work Breaks – Helpful or not?

I recently read an interesting article regarding taking effective breaks at work.  This article stated that the most productive 10% of their surveyed population took a regular work break of 17 minutes out of every 52 minutes.  The authors surmised that this improvement in the productivity of the individuals who took work breaks was due to the fact that as people, we get bored easily, and as our boredom grows, our attention to our work similarly decreases, resulting in lower productivity over time, unless we take a work break.

Timer
Pomodoro Technique by Michael Mayer is licensed under CC by 2.0

I used to study classical piano performance at university, and when one practices for 5 plus hours a day, things can become monotonous and unproductive unless you have a plan.  In addition, the musical works one is learning (which are also many), are long and intricate and require a clear mind and direction.  My piano professor used to make me divvy up my piano practicing day into 30 minute blocks and then divide the musical works that I needed to learn and master across these blocks.  Then, strictly adhering to this schedule, I was required to practice for 25 minutes and then stop and take a 5 minute work break before continuing with the next 30 minute block and piece of work.

I used to think that I would never get anything done.  However, surprisingly, a lot of work was covered over time.  Following this method of taking work breaks, I used to succeed in learning a lot of difficult musical work, faster and better than I would’ve done, had I never followed his model and taken my work breaks.

This is pivotal, since many musicians (and office workers) tend to think that they need to get started with their work and then drive forwards until they hit that sweet spot of concentration and continue until they hit the wall of physical and mental fatigue.  We all know, however, that once you’ve hit that wall, your productivity takes a serious dive.

The problem with this approach to work is that you end up exhausting yourself so that after 2 or 3 hours, your brain is a rag and anything you do afterwards is unproductive and sometimes counterproductive.  When you’re tired and depleted like this, the other downside in addition to reduced productivity is that you also become prone to making mistakes.  This is because your mind is no longer clear and sharp, rather it is clouded by fatigue.

There are other studies that have been undertaken to determine the benefits of work breaks for office workers.  These studies looked at the optimal work break schedule as well as the effects of taking a work break on the participants.

Due to different study models, an optimum work break schedule is hard to pin point, however, some researchers recommend taking a 5 minute work break every half an hour, or 2 x 15 minute work breaks in your day, or 4 x 5 minute work breaks over the course of your day.  What was clear from the research was that it was very detrimental to your health and your productivity if you worked for 4 hours or more without taking any work break.

These studies also found, however, that taking work breaks also helped to improve productivity, reduce fatigue and  reduce phycial aches and pains.

 

Food for thought next time you feel that you’re far too busy to take a work break because of a deadline that you have to meet?  Perhaps, you might find it easier and faster to meet that deadline if you plan a few work breaks into your day?

 

References:

P., Tucker. 2003. “The impact of rest breaks upon accident, risk, fatigue and performance: a review.” Work & Stress 17 (2): 123-137.

Galinsky T., Swanson N., Sauter S., Dunkin R., Hurrell J. et al. 2007. “Supplementary breaks and stretching exercises for data entry operators: A follow-up field study.” American Journal of Industrial Medicine 50 (7): 519-527.

Johnston V., Souvlis T., Jimmieson N.L., Jull G. 2007. “Associations between individual and workplace risk factors for self-reported neck pain and disability among female office workers.” Applied Ergonomics 39: 171-182.

Balci R., Aghazadeh F. 2003. “The effect of work-rest schedules and types of task on the discomfort and performances of VDT users.” Ergonomics 46 (5): 455-465.

Grimby-Ekman A., Andersson E.M., Hagberg M. 2009. “Analysing musculoskeletal neck pain, measured as present pain and periods of pain, with three different regression models: a cohort study.” BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 10 (73). doi: 10.1186/1471-2474-10-73.