Rest Breaks and Lower Back Pain

Methods to reduce prolonged sitting seem to be all the rage today. Well we couldn’t agree more! It’s time that overall worker health received the attention that it deserves in our hectic day-to-day lives. Heck, we’ve even posted about this multiple times and you can check them out here:

Why This Is Important.

Prolonged sitting is commonly associated with the development of acute low back pain. But of course, just because someone sits for a prolonged period of time does not necessarily mean that they will develop lower back pain. Did you know that in controlled laboratory studies, during prolonged sitting or standing (i.e.: for 2 hours), 25-50% of participants develop (and report) lower back pain. These numbers would probably be quite similar to what we would see in normal working environments. 

Interestingly, previous research had found that a 5-min rest break every 30 minutes during seated work was most beneficial for reducing blurred vision, eyestrain, and physical discomfort for non-reporters of lower back discomfort. This brings up an important point. Sometimes it can be quite difficult to generalize positive findings from the ‘laboratory’ to the office setting. Of course while having a 5 minute break every 30 minutes may offer the greatest amount of relief in these areas, we must ask ourself if it would significantly interrupt someones work flow to actually reduce efficiency. My educated guess tells me that it would. And, let’s face it, no one will adopt even the best intended advice if it negatively affects their work! 


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What You Can Implement Today.

There are some simple and key points from this research that can help you today:

  • Prolonged sitting (2 hours) causes increased risk for the lower back. A standing break may be beneficial for the spine, but it doesn’t really provide much relief to the lower back’s musculoskeletal system. Some level of exercise is beneficial in changing the muscle activity in the back. 
  • Obviously, a rest break every 5 minutes was favoured the least as it was thought to be the least feasible in workplaces.
  • Mental fatigue increased the most during 60 minutes of seated work without any rest breaks.
  • A rest break every 30 minutes was most favoured.
  • Including rest breaks into normal working days seemed to have slowed reports of low back pain. No back pain? Rest breaks can also improve other health and performance indicators, such as blurred vision, eyestrain, and physical discomfort.
  • Since sit-stand workstations can be so expensive, they should be considered carefully on a case-by-case basis since not all individuals respond to prolonged sitting in the same way. Additionally, productivity seems to be maintained despite frequent standing breaks that would be taken in absence of a sit-stand desk.

Of course if you have any questions or comments with these, please do not hesitate to let us know!

Source:

Sheahan, P., Diesbourg, T., Fischer, S. (2016). The effect of rest break schedule on acute low back pain development in pain and non-pain developers during seated work. Applied Ergonomics. 53, 64-70.

Through the administration of countless assessments in both private and public sectors, Darcie has gained a wealth of knowledge and built a successful practice in the field of ergonomics. She has extensive expertise in conducting office ergonomics assessments in large scale workplaces for all different types of scenarios, from simple adjustments to incredibly complex cases. Darcie also has vast experience in delivering training presentations on the various aspects of ergonomics “best practices” in the workplace. Darcie is a Certified Professional Ergonomist through the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics, as recognized by the International Ergonomics Association. She also has a Masters of Science, specializing in ergonomics. A little known fact about Darcie is that she once scored from half, off a free kick, in a university varsity soccer (football) match!

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