Ergonomics | What are the causes of back pain (and solutions for desk workers)?

What are the causes of back pain (and solutions for desk workers)?

You’re working at your desk, typing away at your computer and spending hours on video calls… now you’ve got a nasty bout of back pain.

Back pain is extremely common amongst desk workers. Whilst many instances of back pain only cause mild discomfort, the more severe cases can have detrimental effects on an individual’s professional, personal and family life. Back pain is one of the top 10 diseases and injuries that account for the highest number of DALYs (life years lost to ill-health, disability and mortality) worldwide.

In the United States, 149 million work days are lost every year due to time off for lower back pain, costing the economy $98 billion. When indirect costs are factored in, this reaches an unfathomable $200 billion annually, two-thirds accounting for lost wages and productivity. In the UK, lower back pain affects one third of adults every year and is the most common cause of disability in young adults.

What are the causes of back pain?

90% of back pain cases are referred to as ‘non-specific’, meaning it’s not possible to pinpoint the exact cause of the pain. 60% to 70% of people will experience non-specific lower back pain at some point in their life.

If your pain lasts for more than 3 months, it’s considered ‘chronic’. The majority of chronic back pain is non-specific, with pain levels varying from mild to severe.

Back pain can stem from a wide range of injuries and conditions, including:

  • Muscle and ligament strains and sprains

  • Disc damage

  • Nerve compression (pinched nerve)

  • Joints and bone issues

  • Skeletal deformity

  • Internal organ issues

What’s putting desk workers at risk of back pain?

65% of desk workers at the average company are currently suffering with musculoskeletal issues such as back pain. Here’s what’s causing the pain:

  • Prolonged sitting in the same position throughout the working day

  • Poor posture, most commonly caused by bending forward to look at an incorrectly positioned screen

  • Using Display Screen Equipment (DSE) such as computers and laptops for long periods without breaks

  • Poor workplace setups (we built our AI desk assessment VIDA to create personalised recommendations to improve your workspace)

  • Persistent stress caused by a high workload, tight deadlines and lack of control of your schedule

Our best back pain solutions

For employers:

1. Identify workplace risks

As an employer, you should ensure your team have comfortable workplace setups and take a proactive approach to workplace health and safety. According to the HSE guidelines, you’re also required to identify any employees who may be susceptible to workplace risks and take measures to reduce these risks – VIDA is designed to help you do this at scale!

2. Address Existing Pain

Provide your team with the right strategies and tools to help them manage their pain and self-correct any . The earlier the intervention, the greater the chance of full recovery. VIDA Pain Coach is a personalised pain management program designed to help desk workers recover from existing pain and reclaim their physical wellbeing.

3. Encourage frequent breaks

The DSE Regulations require you to ensure your team members take regular breaks throughout the day. Plan rest breaks or changes in activity when necessary and lead by example!

For employees:

1. Move more

Movement and exercise increases blood flow and keeps your muscles, ligaments, joints and bone tissues healthy. Take frequent breaks throughout the working day to stretch your back and change position. Strengthen your core with regular exercise.

2. Prioritise your mental health

If you’re under constant stress at work, this can lead to muscle tension and pain, not to mention burnout. Discuss your workload with your manager or use an employee assistance program if one is available at your company.

3. Improve your workplace setup

Learn what a good desk setup looks like and which factors can put you at risk. Adopting good working posture will reduce your risk of back pain and help you feel uplifted and energised!

4. Manage your lifestyle

Certain lifestyle habits such as quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight can do wonders for reducing and preventing back pain. Simple things like getting a good night’s sleep and soaking in a warm bath can relax your muscles and help alleviate pain.

Most back pain cases can be resolved with physical therapy and time. If you have ongoing back pain or additional symptoms such as leg weakness, tingling or numbness spreading down the legs, changes in bladder and bowel function, see a specialist to get a diagnosis and treatment plan. Act early for the most effective results.

Empower your team to manage and reduce their work-related pain

Vitrue VIDA is a digital AI workplace assessment that reduces issues like back pain in your teams while making you DSE compliant. Your team will get a personalised report with clinically-validated recommendations to improve their posture, their workspace, and of course their wellbeing!

Try it today


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Vitrue Health

At Vitrue Health, we're on a mission to reduce musculoskeletal pain for millions of people. Musculoskeletal issues like back pain cause more lost quality of life than any other physical health condition, whether it’s an office worker with back pain or a professional athlete with a knee injury. Our workspace wellbeing platform, VIDA, uses cutting-edge technology to understand the various risk factors in a desk worker’s environment, making companies DSE compliant and reducing issues like back pain in remote, office and hybrid teams.