Could an 'active work station' be the answer to injuries caused by working from home?

Sitting down all the time while working can cause numerous problems, say physiotherapists

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Months of remote working as the coronavirus closed offices across the country has left a legacy of sore necks and stiff backs.

But the solution could be at hand in a range of desks with built-in exercise equipment.

Research from KPMG found that 69 per cent of 500 CEOs from the world's most influential firms plan to reduce their office space over three years, so it seems likely the work-from-home culture will be here to stay.

However, many employees lack the equipment they need to avoid spinal problems and wrist injuries.

While physiotherapists report an increase in patients with issues brought on by stooping over laptops and phones for hours, home office suppliers have seen sales boom during the pandemic.

When tech companies allowed more staff to work for home we saw a different demand for our machines

Kelly Robinson, a senior physiotherapist at Anatomy Rehab in Dubai, said most workers do not have their workspaces at home set up properly.

"Not having the correct desks or ergonomic chairs, with a laptop on a sofa or coffee table, can cause serious problems when used for longer than two to three hours a day," she said.

“It puts a lot of pressure on the neck and thoracic spine, as the head is constantly facing downwards to view the screen and keyboard.

“We are seeing problems in the neck with disc bulges and prolapses, following an overload on joints and soft tissue in the neck, back and spine.”

How to work from home in comfort

Dubai, March 16th  2016. Dr Janine McKay, a
chiropractor at Diversified Integrated Sports Clinic, demonstrating exercises one
can do at the work desk. This is standing supported extension. It is recommended to repeat the exercises 10 times per hour in one sitting. Anna Nielsen for The National *** Local Caption ***  Anna_Nielsen_Diversified Integrated Sports Clinic_07.JPG
Physiotherapists report an increase in patients with issues brought on by stooping over laptops and phones for hours. Exercises like back bends can help. Anna Nielsen / The National 

Acupuncture and manual therapy are common treatments to relieve tight muscles, but correct seating positions at work are crucial to a healthy posture.

Using a laptop trackpad rather than a desktop mouse can create issues with the wrist or arms, Ms Robinson said.

“Ideally, you should not be sitting all the time.”

In Sweden, if a company makes home working mandatory, employees must be provided with a safe working environment, which includes a desk and chair.

Standing desks are also encouraged to help eliminate chronic back problems.

Tech companies are at the forefront of implementing standing desks in offices to improve posture and reduce back issues in employees.

Google, Facebook, Twitter and Apple are some of the companies to implement the measure.

Researchers in the UK found that although office furniture sales were generally down in 2020, demand for office chairs to use at home soared, a trend being replicated here in the UAE.

Jawad Sahloul is head of digital commerce at Move To Excellence, a company supplying gym equipment with built-in desks in Umm Al Quwain.

Although sales have dropped during the pandemic, his customer base has switched from businesses and office sales to those looking to equip home offices with workspace equipment by companies such as LifeSpan.

Products include a walking treadmill desk, combining a treadmill with an adjustable standing desk, and an under desk bike – a compact upright exercise bike that fits beneath most standing desks.

“Demand has increased for personal use during Covid,” said Mr Sahloul.

“That has offset the decrease we’ve seen from businesses offering this kind of equipment to create an active zone inside offices.

“When tech companies allowed more staff to work for home, we saw a different demand for our machines.”

The appliances are more expensive than regular exercise equipment, but are specifically designed for offices.

The growing popularity of active work stations

ABU DHABI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , MARCH 22  – 2018 :- Amy Gilbert , physio and owner of PerfectBalance teaching a right posture to her client at Tamouh Towers in Marina Square in Abu Dhabi. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) Story by Ann Marie
Active desks are one way to avoid injuries and a trip to the physiotherapist. Pawan Singh / The National 

In the UAE, Facebook was one of the first companies to use active desks, but employees of other tech firms, including Google, Oracle and Microsoft, have also purchased the equipment for home use.

“It allows people to walk or cycle while they are working, so it creates a far healthier workspace for them,” said Mr Sahloul.

“Our treadmills are designed to operate at low speeds for a long time, so they can be used for 2-3 hours a day while working, which makes a huge difference to someone’s health.”

Dubai resident Emmet, 36, uses a treadmill desk to exercise while working, as being a dad has left him with little spare time to work out.

“With a long work day followed by playtime with the kids, dinner and evening rituals, it never really left time for exercise without sacrificing something else,” said Emmet, who works in IT.

“In the beginning, reaching 10,000 steps a day left me exhausted, now that limit is pushed to 20,000 steps or more.

“It burns around 400 to 700 calories per day, so naturally it helps me shed some corona kilos and I really hope it can help me keep my weight under control.

"It took a few years to persuade my employer to invest in a few treadmills for the office, now a lot of my colleagues take daily walks."

In pictures: exercising around the UAE