Stop Procrastinating!

I remember a time, not so long ago, I got in my car, and it crossed my mind that I hadn’t checked the oil in a while.  It was an old car, and it was something I had to do fairly often, but I was in a hurry, and I figured I’d be ok to check it when I had more time. Halfway to my destination, the oil light came on.  I was in the middle of nowhere and had no spare oil on me so all I could do was keep going, knowing that I was most likely causing damage to the engine and that it could cause it to cease at any moment.  Thankfully on that occasion, I got away with it – a petrol station came into sight, and I was able to pull over and buy some oil, however, my garage mechanic will be able to tell you that I wouldn’t have been the first person whose car engine had died because of simple neglect like this.

Our bodies are the same.  They need looking after!  Poor posture, small, repetitive movements, constricted movement for long periods of time, a fast pace of work, it all adds up.  Then there are the strains and stresses we put it through at home.  Even sitting on the sofa for hours has a price to it.  The fact is the list of strains we put on our bodies goes on and on!

Statistics taken by the HSE in 2020/21 indicate that of all the work-related ill health at the time, 28% of it was due to muscular-skeletal disorders:  back pain (39%), neck, shoulder and wrist/hand pain (45%), lower limbs pain (16%).  And all of these could have been caused by a combination of activities.

Despite all this, we’re not so good about adjusting our practices, or seeking help until the pain is too much and we can no longer manage it. 

“I can’t be bothered with all of that”, “I am ok, I don’t have any pain”, “I’ve worked like this for years and it’s never caused me any problems”, “I know how I should be sitting, and I don’t need the help”!  I think I’ve heard every excuse under the sun.

So why are we so often so reluctant to follow advice and adjust our practices?

I think one of the biggest issues is that people don’t always appreciate how much of an impact a muscular disorder can have on their life.  They’re not life-threatening and therefore people can assume that because they’re young, or they’re fit and healthy that they will be ok. 

The trouble is that the stress we cause to our bodies is accumulative, which means that the damage builds up slowly and we often don’t realise what damage has been done until it’s too late!  What starts off as a niggle can quickly develop into a major injury if ignored, at which point that injury requires medical intervention and painkillers.

For me, it was sudden.  One morning I went to get out of bed and found that I couldn’t put my foot down, the pain was so intense.  Years of thinking I was ok lifting heavy things, doing DIY (not very well!), playing squash (and not doing any other exercise, if I’m honest) plus a whole bunch of other things, all added up and my back had had enough.  It eventually meant the end of a career, which whilst an extreme consequence, is not unheard of in some cases.  The trouble is, I’d ignored the niggles and assumed I could keep going as I was, thinking that the pain would pass. It didn’t!

So, what should you do when you start experiencing these niggles.  Well, in the first instance, engaging in a review of working practices and home life can be enough for many people but, even if medical intervention is required, a full desk assessment will be invaluable in supporting any treatment and helping you to set yourself up in such a way as to prevent further injury.  Your workplace may offer this support inhouse, or you may prefer to contact me to discuss how I can help.

Are you sitting comfortably, then I’ll begin?

It was around three weeks into the first lockdown that people started to get concerned about the niggles they were starting to experience.  Initially able to ignore or manage them, people carried on working assuming that lockdown would not be for that long after which they’d return to the office as normal, and all would be well.  And so, they put off seeking any help.  The trouble is, more often than not, any pain is a warning sign of something going wrong and ignoring it only means it will develop.

Before the end of that first lockdown, the effect of sitting on the sofa or bed, huddled over a laptop started to be felt.  As nice as working in bed may sound, our bodies are not designed for it.  Hunching over a small laptop, staring at a small screen, and having no arm support and a keyboard at the wrong height for typing doesn’t do anyone any good.

Couple this with the fact that a recent survey has shown that 46% of people admitted to being less active than normal.  Whether a commute is walked or driven, the fact is in the office we’re more likely to get up to make a drink, go to see someone for a meeting or a chat or have some other reason to move, that we don’t have at home.

At the end of April 2020, the Institute of Employment Studies carried out research for home workers during the first lockdown to track employee wellbeing patterns.  They found that of all those surveyed 58% complained of newly developed neck pain and 55% of back pain.

More recent surveys have shown other key factors affecting healthy working have also deteriorated.  According to the Royal Society for Public Health there was a 30% increase in disturbed sleep and 67% of people felt less connected to colleagues. 

The trouble is it’s often accumulative and the aches and pains of today can reflect the bad practices of the past. Not that it’s ever too late to act. Sometimes the smallest of changes can make the biggest difference.

So, what should you do?  Well, there are two main actions that you need to take:  firstly get off that sofa and go and sit at the dining room table, raise your laptop onto a laptop stand, or better still purchase a monitor, get hold of a separate keyboard and mouse and a proper office chair, and you will be sitting in a much better position.  If that doesn’t sound feasible, since the start of lockdown there have been a number of solutions that have popped up on the market in recognition of the space issue people have struggled with and you could consider some of these.

Secondly, get up and get moving.  The usual recommendation is that you change position every 20 minutes, for 20 seconds, during which time you take your eyes off your screen to give them a break.  If that doesn’t sound possible, get creative – can you get up and walk when you’re on the phone? Could you move your laptop to a kitchen worktop for a few minutes rather than sitting still?  There are usually ways around this.

Whether you decide to go all out with your desk set up or to just make minimal changes, given that home working seems to be here to stay, it’s time to invest in yourself and that way you’ll be able to enjoy many more comfortable years working at your desk.