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Are you sitting incorrectly in work and damaging your back?

One man’s mission to improve Ireland’s posture in the workplace

 

Sitting on office chairs for extended periods is part and parcel of many jobs these days, but plenty of people continue to do it wrong, according to a leading back pain specialist.

Dublin-based physiotherapist Aidan Woods is on a one-man mission to improve Irish people’s posture in the workplace. He says he regularly has people in their 20s and 30s coming into his clinic complaining of back and neck pain that can be traced to their sitting habits.

“We certainly have a lot of people in their late 20s and early 30s coming in here with back and neck pain, and a lot of them would be sitting for eight hours plus a day,” says Woods, who practises at Pearse Street Physiotherapy Clinic and was also part of the Irish backroom team at the Rio Olympics.

“It’s a combination of multiple factors. If you’re sitting for a long time, what generally tends to happen is you get tired and you tend to slouch. The longer period of time you spend slouching the stiffer you get and the weaker your muscles will get.”

Given the country’s ever-increasing population of office workers Woods sees it as an important cause to champion, and he says even small bouts of exercise interspersed throughout the working day can help to stave off the ill-effects of slouching.

“What we encourage our patients to do is to try to keep moving as much as possible, and certainly take regular breaks from the desk for a short walk or stretch, and when they sit back down to try to sit as well as they can and in the best posture that they can.

“I would encourage people to stay moving, even if it is very gentle movement or if it’s sitting for a period of time and then moving from standing to sitting. It’s the actual movement as opposed to standing all day or sitting all day so that there’s variety in the workplace,” he says.

The activities are designed to be subtle and can be completed in a short space of time, and Woods believes the evolution of such practices is part of a process whereby companies are becoming ever-more receptive to positive health attitudes in the workplace.

“More and more, the employers are encouraging their staff to stay healthy. It’s getting more standard that people would have sit-to-stand desks.

“So many of the offices have gyms on site where staff are encouraged to go early in the morning or at lunchtime or evening, if they don’t have gyms they would generally subsidise gym membership. We would have a lot of businesses where we got out to and do pilates classes at lunchtime,” he adds.

Encouragement from employers is a positive trend, but Woods also wants to see people taking responsibility for their own working environment.

“If you are sitting or standing, have a work setup that’s appropriate to you because every single one of us are different shapes and sizes. If there is the facility at work to get specialist help I would always encourage people to get someone in to talk them through what is the best chair, computer or mouse for them.”