How long hours at the desk are hampering your spinal health?

The long work hours you spend sitting in front of your computer in cramped cubicles might be good for your productivity but not for your spinal health. Lack of ergonomic furniture, bad posture, erratic breaks from work, and sedentary lifestyles are among the few reasons why spinal health is often an afterthought in corporate workspaces.

The spine gives the body a structure and allows one to move freely with flexibility. It also protects the spinal cord – a column of nerves that connect the brain with the other parts of the body. Given how important the spine is for the body’s movement, any problems related to spinal health can impact one’s overall well-being, productivity, and quality of life.

The muscles and joints comprising your spine might also weaken over time due to age or an injury, thereby hampering your body’s flexibility and ease of movement. These reasons underline how important spinal health is to live a fulfilling life. According to a study published in The Lancet Rheumatology in 2023, India reported around 87.5 million cases of low back pain. The study also claims that over 840 million people across the globe will suffer from back pain by 2050 mainly due to an increase in population and aging.

What causes spinal problems?

The modern-day workplace typically involves employees glued to their computer screens while chasing deadlines. The prolonged sitting hours put additional pressure on the spine and result in incorrect posture. What adds to the problem is increased dependence on digital devices which causes back and neck strain.

Often mental stress is another reason why people develop back pains. Stress can cause muscle tension which can impact the spine. In a 2022 survey conducted by a leading Indian furniture brand, it was found that 64% of employees sit for over nine hours a day while working. The survey which studied the behavior of more than 500 individuals from India, also claimed that around 73% of the individuals did not know what they could do to avoid sitting for long hours.

These factors coupled with unhealthy lifestyle choices and lack of exercise can be counterproductive for the spinal health of corporate employees.

What you can do?

If it’s habits that have affected your spinal health, you can always form new ones to correct the mistake. These new habits may not be big changes but just simple steps that you can easily accommodate in your life. These steps range from eating healthy to sitting in the right position and just getting some exercise. At the same time, if you feel overwhelmed you can always get in touch with a doctor, a nutritionist, or a physiotherapist to guide you along the way.

Here are a few tips on a balanced approach to boosting spinal health:

1. Check your posture

If you are someone who works long hours while slouching, you are putting extra pressure on your spine, neck, and back muscles which may cause pain. Likewise, those who spend too much time on the phone with their necks arched are risking spine damage. Maintain an upright posture so that your neck and lower back align. You can adjust either your computer’s height or get an ergonomic chair to help you fix your posture.

2. Take breaks now and then

It’s always advisable to take short breaks between work hours to help your body relax. You not only give your spine some relief but also avoid screen fatigue and burnout. If you have been experiencing back pain, sitting in the same position for an extended period will only cause you more discomfort. Hence, try incorporating small walks or just some stretching every couple of hours during your work shifts.

3. Get your daily dose of exercise

A sedentary lifestyle can cause your spine and lumbar muscles to weaken and lead to back pain. You can remedy this problem by opting for simple stretching exercises like hamstring stretches, knee-to-chest, and shoulder or neck rolls to add fluidity to your joints, spinal discs, and muscles. If you are suffering from a chronic medical condition that impacts your joints or bones, you should consult a doctor before choosing an exercise regime. There are several low-impact exercises like brisk walking which if done regularly can help you relieve spinal pain.

4. Nutrition matters

Eating a balanced diet can bring you relief from spinal problems. The nutrients and vitamins can nourish the discs, muscles, and bones in your spine. If you are experiencing back problems, you should opt for a diet that’s rich in calcium and protein but low in fat. A balanced diet will help you maintain weight and reduce the pressure on the spine.

What can employers do?

It takes all hands on deck to ensure that a company has a healthy professional environment. As per the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors, poorly designed workspaces contribute to 3% decrease in productivity on average. 

Here are a few ways in which corporate workplaces can promote spinal health:

1. Creating ergonomic workstations

Ergonomic furniture is designed to help people work more efficiently and without discomfort. It can reduce the strain on the spine, especially while sitting for long hours. Offering employees adjustable desks, chairs, footrests and ergonomic keyboards that support a good posture and spinal alignment can go a long way in avoiding spinal health problems. According to research, ergonomic workstations can potentially improve cycle time and lean processes by 18% and 27%, respectively.

2. Scheduled breaks

corporations should encourage a supportive environment for employees to take short breaks and promote desk exercises. As employees move around and stretch during breaks, it can lower their risk of developing spinal problems.

3. Educational workshops

Corporates can also organize educational workshops that spread awareness about spinal health problems. During these workshops, experts can talk about specific exercises that can improve employees’ spinal health.

4. Supporting mental health

Mental stress and burnout can lead to muscle tension and aggravate spinal health problems. To avoid such situations, companies can offer their employees access to stress management and counseling programmes and help them work on their mental health.

5. Creating spine-friendly workspaces

According to yoga, the spine is the source of all energy. Metaphorically, having a spine is akin to being able to call a spade a spade. Irrespective of how you see it, your spine has a key role to play in your physical and mental well-being.

Corporate workspaces might not always be designed to achieve optimal health levels, but more companies are now gradually realizing the importance of employee wellness. They are relooking at the workplace atmosphere and even prioritizing decisions that could keep their employees healthy. Right from having more ergonomic furniture around to normalizing regular breaks during shifts to organizing educational workshops on the importance of spinal health, they are now working with their employees to foster a healthier workplace.

HCL Healthcare has been driving impact with its employee wellness programmes for corporate companies for years. With a holistic approach, these programmes strive to promote employees’ well-being by keeping professionals healthy and motivated. They channel the potential of counseling, relationship management, conflict resolution, and work-life balance to drive change in corporate workspaces.