Throughout the ages, bad workmen have been blaming their tools. Now they’re blaming their chairs.
I heard of one organisation where as soon as people slap a claim form for lower back pain on their manager’s desk, they get given a $1,200 chair. It’s a government organisation so there’s plenty of money for chairs.
This is an organisation where a lot of the staff aren’t in great physical condition, but that’s not unusual for people with back, neck, shoulder and wrist pain.
From my experience it’s drawing a long bow to blame the chair if you can’t do 20 situps, 20 pressups and 20 squats in 30 seconds.
Plus it’s not fair to blame the chair if your hamstring and buttock muscles are so tight you can’t sit up straight. And yet what is the first thing people do when they have back pain? They blame the chair and put in a request for a new one without doing anything to improve their own physical condition.
I can tell you one thing, the problem is rarely the chair, it’s the person sitting in it and if you want a cushy job sitting down all day, you’d better start training.
As I write I’m sitting comfortably on a $45 chair. It’s the simplest of old fashioned typist’s chairs. The chair doesn’t have any arms, the back is upright, it’s the right height for my work station and my abdomen is pressed in to the desk. There’s a hollow in my lower back. I’m up straight and locked in.
Regardless of the cost of your chair, if you sit down for most of the day and you don’t have a decent strength and flexibility training program, sooner or later you’re bound to be on the receiving end of back pain. Chances are you’ll also have upper back, shoulder, neck and wrist pain.
Despite the fact that you’re always going off to a therapist – no-one has ever told you that back pain is not due to a lack of rubbing, crunching, heating or vibrating. Nor is it due to a lack of ibuprofen, codeine, paracetamol, oxycodone or laudanum!
If OH&S staff were on the job they’d have vigilante squads going around workplaces making sure people had their desks and chairs set up properly and were sitting up straight, with their abdomens pressing into the desk and the back of the chair pressing in up under their shoulder blades. No workplace can afford tolerate people sitting in any other position. If there isn’t a hollow in their lower back people are not sitting correctly. New chair, bah humbug!
I haven’t come across any OH&S staff who regularly measure the strength and flexibility of people with back, shoulder, neck and wrist pain. They too subscribe to the theory that the chair is to blame.
In fact it’s got to the stage where OH&S officers refuse to make these assessments for fear of being taken to the cleaners for human rights abuse. Generally speaking, human responsibilities take a back seat to human rights.
I’ve been told by OH&S officers that strength and flexibility assessments discriminate against people who are out of condition. I point out to them that as long as the organisation is paying their workers compensation insurance premium they have every right to manage the risk.
It appears to be beyond reason to go up to someone and say, ‘Mate/Madam, there’s a high likelihood that the reason you have lower back pain is because you’re not in great shape. Instead of a $1,200 chair, I’m going to pay the first two months of a gym membership for you so you can get your body back in better alignment. I’ll even pay for half a dozen sessions with a personal trainer.’
The other bit of research that dare not speak its name is that the closer you approach the point of being 20Kg or more over weight, the higher the likelihood of succumbing to lower back pain.
You can imagine how well telling someone to lose weight is going to go down in the workplace and yet the research findings are compelling. The fatter you are the higher the risk of lower back pain.
Of course if you don’t measure the risk you can’t manage the risk and in the majority of corporations, the risk of musculo-skeletal dysfunction is neither measured nor managed.
Workers compensation premiums are going through the roof, not from work-related injuries but from personally-generated musculo-skeletal dysfunctions being treated as work-related injuries.
Surprisingly the workers compensation insurers haven’t twigged to the abuse of the workers’ compensation system; they’re under doctors’ orders. But it just so happens that for most people, lower back pain is not a medical condition, it’s a fitness problem and fitness is not the medical industry’s strongest suit. But the fact is, you can’t solve a fitness problem with a medical solution.
Some of the government compensation funds are drowning in a sea of unfunded liability. Every man, woman and their dog is hell bent on getting a $250,000 payout, as if that will miraculously restore poor function to good and the pain go away.
Maybe it does. Louise Hay in her book, ‘You Can Heal your Life’ writes that the esoteric interpretation of lower back pain is fear and worry about money.’
In the meantime just buy a new chair and be done with it.