x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Poor posture is crippling UAE office staff, experts warn

Physiotherapists blame commuting and sitting incorrectly behind a desk for long hours for giving office employees back, shoulder and neck pain.

DUBAI // Office staff are suffering from crippling musculoskeletal problems because of poor posture and inactivity at work, experts warn.

Physiotherapists blame commuting and sitting incorrectly behind a desk for long hours for causing back, shoulder and neck pain.

"Every time I see a back patient, it is related to posture," said Maja Bohlbro, a physiotherapist at Tadawi Medical Centre in Dubai.

Most of her patients are business people who spend too much time in front of a computer.

"These people sit at their desk between eight and 10 hours a day," she said. "That means they are sitting for about 90 per cent of the hours in a day. When they get out of bed they will stand up for the shower but they will sit down and eat breakfast, sit down in the car, sit down at work and sit down when they come home."

Bad posture leads to muscle and joint stiffness, muscle asymmetry, aches and pains in the shoulders, neck, back and legs, and even tennis elbow.

A study in Berlin, Germany, found that in industrialised countries, about a third of all health-related absences from work were due to musculoskeletal disorders, with back pain making up about 60 per cent of them.

Ms Bohlbro said offices lack sufficient measures to protect employees from poor posture.

"Here in the UAE there are no rules to protect employees," she said. "For example, many people are working with laptops, even in offices, which I am surprised about.

"This is far worse than a desktop computer. It is impossible to have a good posture with a laptop."

Using a laptop is worse because users tend to hunch over the low screen and look down, which affects posture and causes neck, back and shoulder pain.

Ms Bohlbro recommends placing the laptop higher on a desk using a docking station, so the top of the screen is just below eye level.

A separate keyboard should be placed lower to prevent arms being in an unnatural position when typing and causing repetitive strain injury.

Pillows for back support, adjustable office chairs to help the user sit higher at the desk, foot stools and adjustable tables are other measures employers can take to help staff, she said.

But no matter how good someone's posture is, regular standing or walking is vital to prevent muscular pain, said Dr Suad Trebinjac, a consultant and head of the physical medicine and rehabilitation department at Rashid Hospital in Dubai.

"A sedentary life with prolonged sitting and a lack of physical activities will produce muscle, tendon and ligament weakness and it will cause unstable vertebral segments manifesting as a chronic back pain," he said.

The problem gets worse during the summer because workers are less inclined to leave air-conditioned offices for a break, Dr Trebinjac added.

"Another reason is that muscle receptors are sensitive to change in temperature," he said. "That means if there is a high temperature outside and low temperature inside, due to air conditioning, muscles will react with stiffness and pain."

A study last year found that upper-body musculoskeletal problems affected more than a fifth of the adult population worldwide.

"Being regarded as frequently work-related, many of these disorders are potentially preventable," said the author of the study, Jorgen Riis Jepsen, of the University of Southern Denmark.

To alleviate aches and pains, workers should take deep breaths, have regular breaks, stretch and place a pillow in the small of the back, Dr Trebinjac said.

Ms Bohlbro advised regularly changing position to prevent your muscles seizing up.

Frequent breaks were the "number one" thing workers could do to help themselves after improving posture, she said, followed by exercise before or after work.

"Exercise increases the blood circulation to your muscles and that's what you need after a long day in the office," she said.

Perfect posture starts from the feet. Both should be firmly flat on the floor and ensure that knees and hips sit at 90-degree angles. The spine should be straight, keeping an arch in the lower back, and the head should be back with the chin tilted up.

"Most people only seek help when they have severe disc problems," Ms Bohlbro said. "Correct your posture now before the problem develops."

jbell@thenational.ae