Once upon a time employees were simply considered to be part of the machinery, a moving part in a well-oiled operation. Thankfully, things have come a long way since the industrial revolution and employees are treated with significantly more respect in the 21stcentury. Indeed the responsibility often now lies with the employer to ensure that their staff are not only safe and comfortable at work but are supported in the maintenance and improvement of health and wellbeing.

This approach is a sensible one, given that a happy and healthy workforce is also a more productive one. As many studies have shown, the number of hours lost each year to illness and injury is substantial and this can cost both individual companies and the wider economy many millions of pounds each year.

Let’s take a closer look at the common causes of time off work and the ways that staff absence can be reduced with help of Fornham Chiropractic Clinic, Bury St Edmunds.

The problem

The modern lifestyle is characterised by sitting. Whether it’s at home in front of the TV or in the office behind a desk, more hours per day are spent in a chair than is natural or healthy for the human body. While this is an unavoidable issue given the nature of modern business, many organisations are realising that by taking the health and wellbeing of their staff into their own hands they can help employees to stay in work and avoiding problems such as lower back pain.

Why? Well, a recent study has shown that staff absences due to musculoskeletal conditions now sits at around 40% of the workforce – that’s 4 in every 10 people having to take time away from their job at one point or another due to pain or discomfort.

Many employers also point to the issue of Presenteeism – where staff attend work but are in so much discomfort that their ability to get work done is significantly diminished. As we all know, concentrating on complicated tasks at work can be almost impossible when suffering from debilitating pain and discomfort.

While the physical challenges of problems like back pain and neck pain can make it difficult to sit comfortably at a desk, the knock-on effects are perhaps even more profound. Discomfort can lead to a lack of focus and drop in energy levels. It can also lead to broken sleep.

Over time, the combination of pain and fatigue can lead to low mood and even depression, building a vicious cycle that can be difficult to escape. Not only is this bad news for productivity but, more importantly, it can dramatically reduce a workforce’s quality of life.

Overall, it is thought that 31 million days are currently lost to the British economy each year in Britain due to musculoskeletal injuries and long-term sickness absence is thought to cost the a total of £8bn.

Injury prevention

Left untreated, an office worker suffering from desk-work-related lower back pain can find that a small amount of discomfort can become a chronic injury within 12 weeks. For this reason, many employers are taking proactive steps towards improving the workplace environment and doing more to support quicker recovery from musculoskeletal pain.

Here are just a few preventative steps that should be welcomed in the office environment.

Postural assessment at the desk

Sitting unsupported in one position for several minutes can quickly fatigue the muscles of the lower back. Over time this leads to increased slouching and, ultimately, deterioration in posture.

By taking the time to bring in the right expertise to perform at-desk assessments, employers can help each individual staff member understand how they should sit, correct any problems in their chair–desk positioning and even provide a different chair or “aids” to improve posture. One of the most common aids provided is a lumbar spine support that can be attached to a chair.

Posture checklist

Sit with both buttocks on the seat

Take most of your weight through the tail bones of the pelvis

Your feet should rest easily on the floor

The lower back arch should be supported by the chair back or dedicated back support

Ensure that your hips are slightly higher or equal to your knee joint

Standing desks

While standing desks are sometimes mis-sold as a route to weight loss, these innovations nevertheless help to counteract one of the key problems of the modern work environment – that the human body is not designed to spend hours at a time in a seated position.

Taking time to stand (not slouching) while working can help to prevent the onset of lower back pain caused by the shortening and weakening of the muscles through the posterior chain.

Frequent breaks

Another innovation brought into many workplaces is to encourage more frequent breaks from the desk space. While this may appear to be counter productive in organisations where productivity is king, giving staff a couple of 5 minute breaks from their desk can not only help them combat lower back pain but also help to improve focus when they return to their work area.

Gym facilities at work

Investing in even a small gym space with a few carefully selected pieces of equipment has a number of benefits. First of all, it can help a business to attract good quality staff in the first place as a desirable perk of the role; secondly, well exercised staff are happier, healthier and less prone to musculoskeletal conditions.

Advice and guidance

The general public’s understanding of health, fitness and general wellbeing is much higher than it was in decades gone by. However, there is much to be said for employers providing staff with the kind of advice and guidance that can help them avoid injury and sustain a healthy lifestyle.

From advice on sleep hygiene to the benefits of exercise; the maintenance of good posture to the most appropriate treatments for existing injuries, all of these can support a healthier and more productive workforce.

Early treatment

Accessing treatment swiftly after the onset of an injury is crucial to avoiding a long-term chronic condition. Many organisations now support their staff with excellent health plans and in-house services that serve as a triage for conditions like lower back pain. By identifying a problem early and seeking the appropriate medical assistance, staff can significantly reduce recovery times and employers can reduce the drain on their business caused by staff absences.

Typically, staff are referred to qualified chiropractors or physiotherapists for treatment.

What are the most common musculoskeletal conditions that can affect work?

The top five musculoskeletal conditions that employees suffer from are:

Lower back pain

Shoulder pain

Knee pain

Upper back/neck pain

Foot pain

All of these conditions can become chronic conditions if not treated early. Seeking medical assistance at the early opportunity and putting a rehabilitation programme in place can be the quickest way to helping an individual get back to full health. And this is something that is desirable for every responsible employer.