• On Your Mark

Office Injuries! Why They Occur and How to Stop Them [NYC Guide]

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

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As a medical massage and injury repair specialist in New York City, I get a steady and growing number of clients with regular office jobs coming to me with work-related injuries. Office jobs that require long hours of sitting at a desk are all too common in New York and all over the country, and as you may already know, they can take their toll on the human body in many ways.

It’s no secret that sedentary office-based jobs have increased over the past several decades in the most developed countries, including the United States. This is especially the case with the decline of manufacturing jobs and the growth of cities like NYC and elsewhere. With the increasing dependence on computers and concurrent disappearance of manufacturing jobs, more Americans have found themselves sitting at desks in various office settings than ever.

This trend doesn’t show any signs of reversing any time soon, especially in high density urban areas. In addition, obesity and healthcare costs in the United States keep increasing.

Is there a connection here?

While office jobs that usually require long hours of sitting don’t pose the same sort of acute risks that other more labor-intensive jobs do, office environments do indeed contribute to health problems. And while few comprehensive studies have been completed to date to add detailed facts to this phenomena, the problem is real and it is important that individuals, companies, healthcare providers and government try to mitigate these health risks.

Orthopedic Injuries

Sitting at desks, often staring at computer screens, all day is not good for the human musculoskeletal system. Simply stated, humans did not evolve by sitting down all day. The three areas of the body that are most vulnerable to office-induced injuries are the low back, the neck and the forearm/hands.

This is due to specific biomechanical stressors that sitting and staring at a computer puts on these areas of the body. We will discuss these in detail and offer simple solutions and treatments to help you prevent and overcome these injuries.

Nagging Neck Pain? Check out our article to get more detailed info about this topic.

In addition to the biomechanics component that will be discussed at length below, it is important to mention the overarching sedentary lifestyle to which office jobs undoubtedly contribute to. A sedentary lifestyle is directly tied to obesity, diabetes and heart disease which all pose not only their own very serious health risks but also can further exacerbate muscle and joint injuries sustained from sitting long hours.

For example, being overweight puts extra load on the knees and low back. So if there is already a low back or knee injury, being overweight can just make it worse. In addition, metabolic diseases can impede one’s ability to perform the types and amount of exercise needed to prevent and recover from these injuries.

Cervical Spine, Head and Shoulders

The cervical spine or neck is one of the most often injured areas of the body due to office jobs that require extensive sitting. Arthritis, disc herniations, muscle tightness, headaches, nerve entrapments and acute neck pain are not uncommon amongst office workers. To understand why, let’s briefly discuss anatomy of the area.

The cervical spine is highly mobile, much more so than the lumbar spine (low back) in order to allow for a lot of movement and mobility. The cervical (neck) vertebrae are also very small in size compared to the vertebrae in the thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine. In addition, the neck is where much of the force and tension from the weight of the head ends up.

So, combine mobile joints made up of small bones that withstand a lot of force, motion and weight and you have a perfect storm of risk factors for injury. Add poor posture and repetitive use, not to mention common traumas, for example whiplash from car accidents, to the picture and you can start to get the point.

Perhaps the single biggest neck-related issue with desk-office jobs is that they cause postural and eventually structural changes in the cervical spine which can predispose someone to many different injuries. The most obvious and common of these postural changes is what is known as Forward Head Position.

Check out our many articles on injury prevention and rehab.

When staring at a computer most people place their head further in front of their body than what it should be. And in fact, chronic forward head posture triples the weight of one’s head on the neck. Over time, this can put extra stress on many structures in the cervical spine including disc arthritis and herniations, irritation of the facet joints, impinging the spinal nerve roots, weakening neck-head ligaments and compressing the spinal cord (Stenosis).

Disc Arthritis and Disc Herniations: The Intervertebral Discs are positioned in between each vertebrae in the spine. They function as cushions for the spine, shock absorbers in essence that allow safe and smooth movement. When these Discs are placed under chronic and excessive tension, as is what happens with forward head posture, they reposition backwards and laterally which can weaken the delicate fluid and cellular material contained in them.

Disc bulges or herniations are very common and can cause mild to severe pain as well as numbing, tingling, weakness and burning locally and into the arms, hand and fingers. Disc herniations and arthritis are very common in adults but desk jobs in offices only serve to accelerate the degenerative process.

Nerve Impingements: Disc arthritis, bulges and herniations can pinch the nerve roots that branch off of the spinal column. This can cause acute pain as well as tingling, burning and numbness from the neck all the way into fingers.

Muscle Pain and Tightness: You don’t have to have a clinically diagnosed disc herniation to experience pain and tightness in your neck. Overworked and tight muscles in the neck and shoulder can cause chronic and debilitating discomfort for office workers. Muscle tightness can actually contribute to headaches and TMJ discomfort as well.

Shoulder Pain and Injuries: Forward head posture often occurs along with other postural changes in the thoracic spine and shoulders. The rounding / hunching of the upper back and internal rotation of the shoulder joint can lead to chronic chest muscle tightness, shoulder impingement and biceps tendonitis.

Low Back, Hips and Pelvis

The ways in which office jobs affect the low back are similar to those in the neck. This is especially true when it comes to Disc Arthritis and Disc Herniations / Bulges. What is uniquely different about the low back region is the connection to the pelvis and hips.

Disc Arthritis and Disc Herniations: As with the cervical spine, the Intervertebral Discs in the lumbar spine are positioned in between each vertebrae. They similarly cushions the spine and when constantly placed under chronic tension from slouching, they get displaced posteriorly and laterally, weakening them. Disc bulges or herniations in the lumbar spine can cause pain as well as numbing, tingling, weakness and burning locally and down the back of the legs known as Sciatica.

Low Back Pain: Your guides to prevention and recovery.

Sciatica: You’ve probably heard of this condition before, as it is very common in adults for many reasons. Heavy lifting with improper technique is a big one. The other is sitting at desks for hours. Sciatica cna be a very debilitating condition in which a person loses sensation or has chronic nerve symptoms along the Sciatic Nerve pathway down the legs.