Top 5 Occupational Health Risks of Desk Jobs — and How To Combat Them

October 03, 2018

Woman stretching at her desk
Poor posture in the workplace can have painful consequences.

Poor posture in the workplace can have painful consequences.

Linsey Knerl

The health risks of desk jobs may not seem comparable to the risks associated with construction work, but desk jobs can contribute to a significant number of musculoskeletal injuries and repetitive motion injuries. Illnesses that can be attributed to poor ergonomics, lack of movement and cramped working conditions include diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Before worrying that you're doomed to suffer irreparable harm, consider these top five preventable risks of sitting — and the surprisingly simple remedies to avoid them.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines this painful disorder as a pinching of the median nerve that runs from your forearm to your hand. This nerve can become compressed when its passageway, or tunnel, is thickened or swollen from injury or stress. Repeating the same motion over and over again — such as clicking a mouse or using a keyboard — while in a poor position at your desk can contribute to the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.

After pain and weakness in the hand develop, diagnosis is usually fairly simple; while surgery is sometimes needed to correct the condition, less than half of sufferers ever regain full feeling and motion after treatment. The best remedy is to prevent it from happening in the first place through a workstation that allows for a full range of arm movement and changing of positions when needed.

Poor Posture and Back Pain

Slouching, curving the back, leaning on one leg or slumping over are all tell-tale signs of bad posture and are common health risks of desk jobs. Pain in the upper back, shoulders and neck are often associated with poor posture. Over time, poor posture can affect how you go about your daily life — even outside of the office.

Having a computer monitor too high or too low for your height, as well as being forced to strain your neck to do your job, can make this worse. Since your neck is important to provide a full range of head motion, such an injury makes it difficult to do even the simplest tasks, such as driving, eating or sleeping.

Proper ergonomics is the best prevention. A workstation set at the proper height and distance for your frame can make an incredible difference for those who find it difficult to sit up straight while working.

Diabetes

This illness affected 9.4 percent of the U.S. population in 2015, and 1.5 million new cases are diagnosed in the U.S. every year. While some unpreventable factors, like family history, can contribute to your risk of diabetes, there are proactive steps you can take to lower your chances of diagnosis. Diet and exercise are key. There are four types of exercises proven to improve your overall health (and decrease your risk of diabetes):

  • Continuous Movement: Walking is the easiest way to complete this exercise. A bike desk can also help you get the movement your body needs during a typical day at the office.
  • Strength Training: This includes lifting small weights. Even hand weights of just a few pounds can make a difference.
  • Flexibility Improvement: Doing desk stretches throughout the day is important and can be done while still at your workstation.
  • Aerobic Exercise: Activities that really get your heart pumping and may make it difficult to talk aren't always appropriate for all desk jobs. Consider doing these more rigorous activities on your lunch break or when you're off the clock.

Cardiovascular Disease

Lifestyle changes aren't always easy, but they can have great results. Exercise and healthier habits can play an important role in lowering your risk for cardiovascular problems. Start today; incorporate 30 minutes or more of movement in your workday — at least five times a week — for best results.

Today's workplaces are becoming more aware of how the risks of sitting affect the health of workers. By incorporating an adjustable desk, like a standing desk, employees can personalize their work experience and reap the health benefits, both in and out of the office.

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