Today’s workforce is to be commended on their efforts for continually educating the growing population of desk workers on how to improve the ergonomics of their working environment. However, there are still many who suffer from musculoskeletal dysfunction (MSD) due to poor workspace ergonomics. As a practitioner some of the most common complaints we hear from desk workers are headaches, chronic neck pain and low back pain (LBP), which they tell us is due to, and worsened by being seated at their desk for prolonged periods.

​Office work is subject to keyboarding whilst looking at visual display units often in a seated posture, thus if their work station is incorrectly setup this will perpetuate MSD. Although physical therapy can aid the patient with these work associated dysfunctions, ​corrective exercises and ergonomic adjustments are just as, if not more a vital part of a patients treatment plan (Krechman, 2015). The aim of this article is to create awareness that correct workspace ergonomics, postural exercises, and behavioural cues integrated into software can significantly reduce MSD.

Primary headaches are head pains referred to the head from bony or soft tissue structures of the neck, with their cause being eighty percent of the time unknown (Spriggs, 2014). Prolonged idle sitting can be a risk factor in the development of cervical MSD and headaches. Numerous studies have investigated the effects of stretching and how it can improve headaches. J. Ylinen conducted a study aiming to determine if exercise therapy relieved headache associated with neck pain. This investigation proved that isometric and dynamic stretching exercises decreased headaches, however stretching was less effective alone, than when combined with muscle endurance and strength training (J, et al., 2010).

A study conducted by D. Falla demonstrated that people with chronic neck pain had a reduced ability to maintain an upright neutral posture when asked to perform a computer task for only ten minutes (D, et al., 2007). Given there were postural deviations executed after few ten minute tasks, it can be anticipated that after an average working day of eight hours, these postural deviations would be remarkably worse. D. Falla also concluded that corrective exercises such as deep neck flexor strengthening movements that targeted longus colli and longus capitus, as well as endurance strength training, aided the subject in maintaining an ideal cervical posture whilst seated (D, et al., 2007).

Low back pain can decrease one’s ability to maintain an upright posture, which enhances spinal deviations, thus increasing the symptoms of MSD (Krechman, 2015). A chair has a direct impact on body alignment, therefore changing the chair is the most realistic action, as altering the work surface may be limited by physical space constraints. Therefore, modifying the chair would be the first step taken to ascertain whether the design of the workstation is associated with the musculoskeletal symptoms (S, et al., 2012). A study done by S. Niekerk showed there was a trend supporting alteration of a chair to reduce MSD among workers who are required to sit for prolonged periods.

The study states that a chair which is adjustable in its height, backrest and armrests can reduce the resting muscle tension of the neck, shoulders and back and also decreases the inter-vertebral disc pressure (S, et al., 2012). Furthermore, the study suggests that curved pan seating may reduce upper body pain, whilst flat pan seating may reduce lower body pain.

Sarah Nowland – Elite Myotherapist