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My Aching Back!

It’s probably no surprise that the most common physical complaint of office workers today centers on the back. In additional to lost work time and workers compensation claims, those workers who "tough it out" and remain at work are often limited in their range of motion due to a series of back ailments.

In fact, over 80 percent of office workers will experience some sort of back pain by the time they reach the age of 50. And with the "aging" of the office population, companies are wise to pay special attention to this trend. Lost time at work means a loss in productivity. And a reduction in productivity results in a loss in profits. Not to mention considerable discomfort and pain for employees.

So what’s a company to do?

To begin, take a close look at the chairs you provide your workers. If they aren’t ergonomically responsive, you’re at a disadvantage from the start. There are many seating options on the market that possess the necessary adjustments and you don’t have to break the bank to obtain them. Look for chairs that offer adjustability in the back, seat height and arms. And remember, not all bodies are alike, so don’t expect one chair style to provide all the answers.

Providing the most ergonomically advanced chair on the planet won’t do much good if people don’t use them properly. There’s a reason today’s manufacturers have provided all those gadgets on their chairs. The chair height should be adjusted so as to allow free blood-flow behind the knee joints. For most people, the angle of the bend at the knee should be at about 90 degrees. Shifting the lumbar mechanism to maximize support for the lower back is also important. And the arm rests should be adjusted so when used, they don’t add stress to the shoulders.

OK- so you’ve got the right chair and you’ve adjusted it correctly. Remember that staying in one position for a prolonged period of time can result in reduced blood flow and muscle fatigue. Make changes in your position from time to time to relieve stress.

Next, remember to take a break! Performing repetitive actions (lifting, bending, and twisting) for extended periods is a sure-fire way to end the day with a back ache.

Beyond seating, many of these same general principals apply to other elements of the work place. Making the appropriate changes to your work area – and varying they way you work – can help reduce the risk of back pain. Shifting frequently used tools (telephone, calculator, keyboard, etc.) closer to your body –there by eliminating the "reach factor" - can also make a positive difference.

Lastly, a company should foster a climate of awareness. Management commitment, employee education and workplace design are all critical components if this important issue is to be dealt with effectively.

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