The Pain In The Office

 Almost 31 million days of work are still lost every year in the UK due to back, neck and muscle problems.

Almost 31 million days of work are still lost every year in the UK due to back, neck and muscle problems.

Neck And Back Pain Caused By Office Work

As we all know, the health benefits of time away from the office are sadly short lived. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), almost 31 million days of work are still lost every year in the UK due to back, neck and muscle problems.  The ONS's Labour Force Survey, which polls hundreds of thousands of people in the UK, found that musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions, which include a large range of bone and joint complaints, accounted for more prolonged absences than any other ailment. MSKs have been the primary cause of absenteeism for the past decade, and the UK has one of the highest rates in Europe. In fact, the Work Foundation estimates that employees suffering from bone and joint pain cost the EU's economies 240bn Euros (£205bn) each year.

So why have bone and joint complaints persisted? Offices, it turns out, can be harmful environments. The human body simply wasn’t designed to sit in static positions for long periods of time and the more sedentary you are the worse it is for your health. To compound the issue, most desk-bound workers are not adequately addressing their health risks and preventative measures, such as keeping chairs, desks and computers at the right height, are often neglected.

Early detection

Another problem is that once symptoms do occur, we are slow to react. A two-year trial in Madrid showed that by assessing and treating 13,000 workers with MSKs who had been off for five days or more, their temporary work absence was reduced by 39% in the long term. Indeed, alarm bells have been ringing for some time over the impact of musculoskeletal diseases. In 2000, then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan launched the Bone and Joint Decade at the World Health Organisation in Switzerland, an initiative designed to reduce the number of MSKs around the globe. Not much has changed since. A study by medical journal The Lancet, published in 2012, found that musculoskeletal conditions were the second greatest cause of disability in the world, affecting over 1.7 billion people worldwide. Recurrent MSKs account for 60% of permanent work incapacity in the EU.

Knock-on effect

The rest of the body is likely to suffer too. Having an MSK can affect the overall well being of an individual which inevitably leads to a reduction in productivity and potentially an increase in absenteeism. According to the Work Foundation it also dramatically increases the likelihood of suffering from depression. And according to the ONS, depression accounts for the third largest amount of missed work days in the UK - 15 million.

Wellness in the workplace

 Wellness initiatives such as in-office massage services are helping to reduce absenteeism.

Wellness initiatives such as in-office massage services are helping to reduce absenteeism.

But changing attitudes could be having an effect. There has been a general reduction in the total number of work-related MSKs since 2001, and a series of measures have been introduced to increase awareness of the problem. The "fit note", introduced in 2010 encourages doctors to provide details of what may be causing employees' ill health, and suggest adjustments to be made. An understanding of the importance of wellness in the workplace is also on the rise, with an increasing number of companies offering a variety of services to improve staff wellbeing, from free gym memberships, to yoga classes and in-office massage services. All of these measures will hopefully contribute to a healthier, happier UK workforce and extend the 'glow' from a summer break all year round.