Prolonged Sitting effect neck pain and low back pain

The Effect of Prolonged Sitting on Neck and Low Back Pain

Low back pain (LBP) and neck pain (NP) are among the most common of the musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) and account for substantial burden to the healthcare system and individual. Today, many people use computers at their workplace and recreationally, which takes up a great deal of their day. While the increase in usage is partly due to cultural adaptations to the convenience and availability of technologies, it is also due to an industrial shift to service-orientated economy, which brings with it more sedentary jobs. This increase in sitting posture has caused a trend in increased musculoskeletal complaints.


Sedentary jobs & lifestyles

In Australia, a significant proportion of the workforce identify as having a job in which they primarily work in an office setting. These include, administrators, financial and accounting, managerial, technicians and professionals to name a few. Sedentary jobs include those in which workers sit for more than 3-4 hours in a normal working day. Computer workers are a good example of this type of working environment. Office computer use streamlines what would otherwise be timely tasks, such as retrieving mail, copying files, or leaving the desk. This increase in productivity and cultural shift to fast-paced industries and the elimination of time-consuming tasks reduces the number of restorative work breaks from prolonged sitting and repetitive tasks.

Physical inactivity has a major health impact on the world. Elimination of physical inactivity would remove between 6% and 10% of the major chronic disease, such as coronary heart disorders, type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancers, hypertension, obesity, depression, osteoporosis and premature death. Furthermore, sitting has been associated with risk of developing LBP and NP, particularly in sedentary office workers. Work-related LBP and NP can be due to cumulative trauma disorders, repetitive strain injuries, and overuse injuries. For people who spend a great deal of time using computers, work-related neck pain is a very common problem.


Risk factors for work-related LBP and NP

Individual factors

Recent evidence suggests that female, 30-50 year-olds, who work more than 3 hours at day at a computer, with pre-existing NP are at a significantly higher risk of developing NP compared to other individuals. Similar findings for LBP have been found in other studies. Other individual risk factors for LBP and NP include heavy physical work, heavy or frequent lifting, non-neutral postures (i.e., body rotation, forward bending) and pushing and pulling.

Physical factors

Awkward back posture, hand force and physical effort have been shown to be associated with LBP. Sedentary lifestyles and obesity are also associated with LBP.

Psychosocial factors

A systematic review of 109 papers on the burden determinants of neck pain in workers found that high quantitative job demands, low social support at work, job insecurity, low physical capacity, poor computer workstation design and work posture, sedentary work position, repetitive work, and precision work.


Workplace interventions

Workplace interventions (WI) are strategies to reduce musculoskeletal complaints and improve work ability and functioning. They can be ergonomic adjustments or education, physical interventions including strengthening and stretching exercises, and and even those focusing on mental health and functioning such as yoga and meditation.

A recent systematic review with meta-analysis of 25 randomised controlled trials found that neck and shoulder strengthening training and stretching were the most effective WI at reducing self-reported NP in office workers.


More information

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Chris Knee

Chris is an experienced and qualified chiropractor, sports chiropractor, McKenzie Credentialed practitioner, nutritionist and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is finishing of his Doctor of Physiotherapy at Macquarie University.