How to avoid long hours at a desk becoming a real pain

Spending long hours at a desk are taking a toll on the nation's backs - but you can take steps to offset the damage.
Spending hours at a desk can leave you in real pain.Spending hours at a desk can leave you in real pain.
Spending hours at a desk can leave you in real pain.

We’ve all seen the headlines denouncing long hours spent at a desk every day as the root of many modern ills - but how bad can it really be?

“It’s a huge problem,” says leading physiotherapist and osteopath Tim Allardyce of Surrey Physio.

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“It is one of the major reasons why back pain is so prevalent, and increasing year on year. Our sedentary lifestyles are a significant contributing factor.

"The longer we sit at a desk, the weaker and more rounded our bodies become. Muscles need to be exercised.

“Sitting at a desk for long periods encourages us to adopt a forward postural position, where our backs round and become what is known as ‘kyphotic’ (a forward rounding of the back).

"An increased kyphosis in the spine is often a sign of poor posture and is directly related to rounded shoulders.”

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It’s believed back pain affects almost half of the UK population in some way or other, and according to NHS figures, it accounts for more than 30 million lost work days a year.

Even if the problem isn’t that severe, aches, pains and sore shoulders and necks can still cause misery.

But, if quitting the office isn’t an option, what can you do about it? Quite a lot actually - although you have to be willing to make some changes...

DITCH AL-DESCO LUNCHES: “New research by Grace Say Aloe shows two out of five people are so glued to their desk, they even eat their lunch there,” says pain psychologist Dr Anna Mandeville.

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“It’s a very bad habit that’s reinforced by our work culture in combination with high workloads. Moving regularly so we don’t ‘overdo’ one behaviour - for example, sitting - has been shown to reduce pain and improve mood.”

Your lunch break’s probably your best opportunity to have a decent desk-break and get out to stretch your legs and get blood pumping through those veins - even go for a swim/jog/gym class, if circumstances allow.

It might not be possible all the time, but make the effort when you can - even a 10-minute walk round the block will make a difference.

ACTUALLY TALK TO YOUR COLLEAGUES: Ideally, Allardyce says you need to “get up and move every 30 minutes”. “Maybe just a two-minute walk to a colleague,” he suggests. “Don’t spend more than 30 minutes at any one time sitting at your desk.”

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We owe a lot to modern technology - but it’s also made us lazy. So next time you need to ask a colleague a question, rather than adding to their inbox clog, consider getting up and having a quick chat with them instead.

GET A STAND-UP DESK: Research has found that using a stand-up desk can burn an additional 50 calories per hour. Also, when standing, blood doesn’t pool in the legs like it can when sitting for long periods, which is good news for health all round.

Stand-up desks can also encourage you to move more frequently, which may help keep stiffness and aches at bay.

STRETCH IT OUT: There are plenty of simple stretches and yoga moves you can do at or near your desk, to help ward off aches and pains, get that blood pumping - and, as an added bonus, even help reduce stress (which, let's face it, we all need!).