WHAT IS THE BEST DESK SET UP FOR WORKING FROM HOME?

Ben de Riter
PHYSIOTHERAPIST
3
Minutes to read

If you are in Melbourne, like us at The Biomechanics, you have most likely spent time during 2020 working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have spent a lot more time at your desk, maybe you have found yourself getting sore and fatigued whilst sitting.

You have also probably found your social media bombarded with allied health professionals telling you that your desk (ergonomic) set up is most definitely the reason! Not to mention ‘text neck’ according to the latest health article in whatever news you consume.

We have become accustomed to seeing images and descriptions like the below when it comes to desk set-up:

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But does the evidence support these ergonomic ideas and principals for the management and prevention of upper extremity and lower back musculoskeletal pain? Daltroy et al., (1997) aimed to find out by conducting a controlled trial with 3000 US postal workers. These 3000 workers were trained by physiotherapists on “back safety, correct lifting and handling, posture, exercises, and pain management” on top of this their individual workstations were assessed and modified to “ergonomic ideals”, the results… The study concluded that “no long-term benefits for the prevention of low back pain were associated with training”.

These results are consistent with the available evidence base, Hoe et al., (2018) and O’Connor et al., (2012) both reaching a similar conclusion that “ergonomic positioning” or “ergonomic interventions” seem to be ineffective at reducing the prevalence of workplace related pain, be it spine or upper extremity, with Van Eerd et al., (2016) stating “there was also strong evidence for no effect of workstation adjustment”.

So where does this leave us as allied health professionals in the management of workplace related pain? The same research above identified 7 studies demonstrating that resistance exercise displayed positive effects at decreasing workplace related upper extremity musculoskeletal pain!

It may be time to shift our thinking far away from the body being fragile and machine-like towards being strong and robust. We may need to focus on increasing the amount of movement we complete throughout the day, adding regular “movement snacks” and even introducing some strength training if you enjoy it!

Let’s start viewing our sedentary aches and pains as reminders to get up and move, see if you can’t get a few work friends to join you in a lunch time walk. As Prof Chris Maher (The University of Sydney) mentioned in a recent interview, maybe the “best” workplace chair is a church pew, something so uncomfortable you are forced to get up and move on the reg!

The above information may very much contradict everything you have been told and know, and that’s ok - at one point it did for us too. What the information does mean is that there is an opportunity presented to us to no longer be weighed down by overcomplicated workplace desk ergonomics and self-punished for ‘sitting wrong’. It means we can begin the journey of viewing ourselves as resilient and adaptable humans who benefit when we load our tissues in appropriate amounts.

If you’d like assistance or more information on pain associated with sitting at work, our allied health team can help. Find our contacts by clicking the button below and reach out to get honest, evidence informed advice.  

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REFERENCES:

  • Daltroy, Lawren H, Iversen, Maura D, Larson, Martin G, Lew, Robert, Wright, Elizabeth, Ryan, James, Zwerling, Craig, Fossel, Anne H, & Liang, Matthew H. (1997). A Controlled Trial of an Educational Program to Prevent Low Back Injuries. The New England Journal of Medicine, 337(5), 322–328. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJM199707313370507
  • Hoe, Victor CW, Urquhart, Donna M, Kelsall, Helen L, Zamri, Eva N, Sim, Malcolm R, & Hoe, Victor CW. (2018). Ergonomic interventions for preventing work‐related musculoskeletal disorders of the upper limb and neck among office workers. Cochrane Library, 2018(10), CD008570–CD008570. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD008570.pub3
  • O'Connor, Denise, Page, Matthew J, Marshall, Shawn C, Massy‐Westropp, Nicola, & O'Connor, Denise. (2012). Ergonomic positioning or equipment for treating carpal tunnel syndrome. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2012(1), CD009600–CD009600. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD009600
  • Van Eerd, D, Munhall, C, Irvin, E, Rempel, D, Brewer, S, van der Beek, A J, Dennerlein, J T, Tullar, J, Skivington, K, Pinion, C, & Amick, B. (2016). Effectiveness of workplace interventions in the prevention of upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders and symptoms: an update of the evidence. Occupational and Environmental Medicine (London, England), 73(1), 62–70. https://doi.org/10.1136/oemed-2015-102992

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