According to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work musculoskeletal pain in the neck, shoulder and back is the most common work-related health problem.
Its increasing prevalence in modern society is concerning, and when left unresolved it contributes to distress at home, loss of productivity and increased absence at work.
Working as an osteopath and Stress-Coach for Body and Mind, most of my patients make an appointment for relief from musculoskeletal pain. When asked about the cause of their discomfort, I mostly hear patients say it is related to working in an office all day: my chair at work isn’t the best, I’m not sitting straight, my computer screen isn’t at the right height, I’ve been working with the computer mouse a lot – in other words, patients most often put the blame for their discomfort on ergonomic or postural issues.
And, yes, prolonged static postures or repetitive movements can lead to muscular chronic tension and eventually pain.
This biomechanical link has been researched extensively, and, although it seems logical, it will probably surprise you to know that scientific studies show that ergonomics aren’t the main problem. There is in fact only limited evidence for a causal relationship between computer work, computer mouse and keyboard time and neck, shoulder and musculoskeletal pain.
In other words the desk, the mouse, the posture are contributors. However, they aren’t the main cause of your pain.
So what is?
It turns out the biggest contributors to musculoskeletal pain are psychosocial factors, mainly job stress as we try to cope with a heavy workload, deadlines, information overload and reorganization.
On a behavioral level these psychosocial factors prompt you to work longer hours, increase your pace at work and make you take fewer breaks, to give but a few examples.
On a physiological level these factors contribute to triggering the stress response witch increases heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol and adrenaline levels and heightens muscular tension.
Chronic stress in turn leads to mood changes, anxiety and depression, and these change your posture and so contribute to musculoskeletal problems.
This combination of biological and psychosocial factors means that we must observe musculoskeletal pain from a ‘biopsychosocial’ perspective.
So the next time you have musculoskeletal pain:
– Take a moment to reflect what has been happening in your life or at work lately.
– What are the changes that have taken place and got you all tied-up?
– How much stress have you experienced lately and what have you done to relax?
– Are you still carrying the weight on your shoulders of issues from long ago?
– Have you taken too much on your plate lately?
Take time to understand the true cause of your pain, unwind and be mindful of your beliefs and how others affect you. If pain persists then consider professional help.