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The mechanical risks of prolonged sitting in the workplace should not be overlooked Jul 5th, 2014
Low back pain (LBP) is an important public health problem in all industrialized countries. It remains the leading cause of disability in persons younger than 45 years and comprises approximately 40% of all compensation claims in the United States. More than one-quarter of the working population is affected by LBP each year, with a lifetime prevalence of 60–80%.

With the rapid development of modern technology, sitting has now become the most common posture in today’s workplace. Some three-quarters of all workers in industrialized countries have sedentary jobs that require sitting for long periods. Because of the reported link with LBP and the fact that in industrialized countries more of the population acquires a sedentary lifestyle, research examining sitting postures is becoming increasingly relevant (Dankaerts etal, 2006).

Among high risk occupational activities believed to increase low back pain, sitting is commonly cited as a risk factor along with heavy physical work, heavy or frequent lifting, non-neutral postures (i.e., trunk rotation, forward bending), pushing and pulling, and exposure to whole body vibration (WBV) (i.e., Truck driving, plant operation). It has been shown that intradiscal pressure is increased during sitting postures and prolonged static sitting postures are believed to have a negative effect on the nutrition of the intervertebral disc (Lis et al, 2006). Individuals who sit for extended periods can be at increased risk of injury if full flexion movements are attempted after sitting. This risk was evident after 1 hour of sitting, which could be of particular concern for those who design work–rest schedules and job-rotation schemes (Beach et al, 2005).

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The above systematic review found the prevalence rate of reported LBP in those occupations that require the worker to sit for the majority of a working day is significantly higher than the prevalence rate of the general population. While the rate of LBP among occupations requiring extended periods of sitting was not quite as high as the rate of LBP among more strenuous occupations, it has been noted that the sitting group had the highest hospitalization rate for LBP (Lee et al, 2001). This suggests when low back injuries occur in people with sedentary occupations, these injuries tend to be more severe.

The risk of prolonged sitting in the workplace should not be overlooked and this risk appears to increase when coupled with whole body vibration (e.g truck driving or operating plant) and sustained awkward seating postures (e.g. lordosed or kyphosed, overly arched, or slouched).


Bovenzi and Betta compared a group of agricultural tractor drivers with a group of office workers. Both groups were exposed to static load due to prolonged sitting. However, only the tractor drivers group was exposed to the combined factors of WBV and awkward posture. They found that tractor drivers were 2.39 times more likely to report LBP than office workers.

Those people with chronic LBP (CLBP) often demonstrate difficulty in adopting a neutral midrange position of the lumbar spine. Furthermore, studies have described that during sitting CLBP patients often adopt such awkward seating postures potentially leading to abnormal tissue strain, pain  and increased injury risk (Dankaerts etal, 2006).

At Central West Health and Rehabilitation our Small Business Injury Management Service includes gym memberships and conditioning sessions for workers who sit the majority of a working day.

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