Workers experiencing back pain forced to take 12 sick days a year: UK chiropractors urge employers to do more to protect employees’ back health
New consumer research reveals that a third (33%) of Brits have taken at least one day off work due to back or neck pain in the past year, resulting in 12 days off work on average. A further fifth (23%) feel it has a negative impact on their working life.
The new research, from the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), also found two fifths of workers (40%) who spend the majority of their time at work sitting don’t feel like they are able to take regular breaks, with only 6% reporting they are actively encouraged to. This is in spite of almost half (45%) of people who have experienced back or neck pain identifying sitting for long periods of time as a trigger for their condition and getting up from your desk being one of simplest and most effective ways to combat the pain.
The research also found that only a minority of employers are proactively offering support to workers. Less than a quarter (23%) of respondents had been offered advice or tips by their employer on how to sit at their desk to prevent work-related back pain, and only a fifth had been offered a desk assessment, ergonomic chairs or laptop stands.
Catherine Quinn, chiropractor and BCA President commented:
“Whilst it’s encouraging to hear that some companies are offering advice and information to employees to prevent work-related back and neck pain, there is clearly a long way to go. No-one should feel they need to be chained to their desk all day at the expense of their health, and it is an organisation’s responsibility to empower staff to look after themselves in the office. With so many workers missing work due to the condition, it is truly in employers’ interests to offer proactive help and advice to protect the health of their employees.
“There are many simple things workers can do to stay active during the 9 to 5. This could start with something as simple as sipping on a small glass of water and standing up to refill it each time its empty or taking the stairs. I also believe everyone should make the most of their lunch hour to get moving – a walk in a nearby park or a lunchtime gym class will make you feel refreshed for the afternoon while helping to counteract the effects of sitting in one position all day.”
The BCA research follows new analysis of The Lancet research series on low back pain, which highlights that musculoskeletal pain causes almost half of work absences in the EU. According to Professor Jan Hartvigsen, Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics at the University of Southern Denmark, the condition presents a significant cost to both businesses and economies, costing healthcare systems between 2% and 3% of the gross domestic product in most European countries, including the UK* .
Following the recent publication of NHS England’s Long-Term Plan highlighting a renewed focus on healthcare prevention, the BCA is calling for employers to do more to protect their employees back health by implementing simple preventative measures in the workplace.
The BCA’s top tips for preventing back or neck pain at work:
• Keep moving: If you are required to sit in one position for long periods of time as part of your job, at work or on a long drive for example, try to take breaks to move your joints and muscles at least every 30 minutes
• Get up, stand up!: Try finding times in your day where you can stand, such as conducting phone calls while standing up to help build additional, simple movement into your day
• Set it up right: Setting your workstation up in a comfortable position will help to prevent the onset of back pain throughout the day. Think about the height of your screen, how well your back is supported and the height of your knees so that you are seated in a comfortable position
Tips for employers to help workers prevent back or neck pain:
• Assess the desk: For those organisations looking to go the extra mile, it may also be worth bringing in an external organisation to undertake desk assessments for staff. This will provide employees with personalised advice on the best way to set up their work station to prevent back or neck pain
• Invest in tech: There are several options for businesses to consider in order to look after their staff’s back health in the office. In this modern age, a number of accessories are available to promote healthier working, from adjustable screen stands, to standing desks or active seating which encourages the use of your core muscles when sitting. Likewise, employers can consider initiatives such as Step Jockey, an app which ‘nudges’ staff to move a little more each day
• A healthy ethos: It’s up to employers to implement a company culture which empowers workers to take breaks from their desk and stay active, for example by organising lunchtime walks or offering gym incentives to personnel
The BCA recommends that, if you have been experiencing pain for more than a few days, then you seek professional help as an undiagnosed problem could lead to longer-term problems if left untreated.