Osteopathy by Graham Flower

Osteopathy by Graham Flower

Musculoskeletal pain is the bane of the UK’s workforce

Graham FlowerThe UK’s economy may be recovering, however at what cost to its workforce?

In a report published earlier this year by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), it was found that over the course of 2013 the labour market lost a total of 131 million working days due to sickness absence.

Minor illnesses, such as coughs and colds, was the most common reason given for sickness absence, accounting for 30% of cases and 27.4 million lost days.

However, the greatest number of lost working days were attributed to musculoskeletal conditions, most commonly neck and back pain, at 30.6 million days lost.

This is due to the nature of musculoskeletal injuries which tend to last for a longer duration when compared to typical minor illnesses. Also, musculoskeletal problems are more likely to recur and develop in to longer term conditions, particularly if they are not addressed correctly. (ONS, 2014)

This may be caused, at least in part, by the progression from regular individually designated and ergonomically correct work spaces, to more flexible and less consistent work space arrangements, commonly known as ‘Hot Desking’ or ‘Flexi-Desking’. With a workspace being used by a variety of different people, there may not be the specific measures in place to support one worker to the next in a postural and ergonomic sense. Furthermore, due to the prevalence of laptops in the workplace, and that in recent years increasingly sophisticated tablet devices with the capability of running office software have become readily available, workers are having to adapt to new methods of working, which are quite often in unsuitable conditions such as on cramped trains or in coffee shops.

This problem is further compounded by the use of similar devices outside of work, as workers often continue to work from home in the evenings on their own laptops and tablets, with these devices also being used for recreational purposes. With tablets becoming ever popular and affordable, they are set to overtake PC and Laptops in sales by the end of 2015. (IDC, 2013)

This change will provide a whole new set of problems, similar to which became apparent in the 90s, when computer based work took over the office environment with the dawn of the Digital Revolution. An increase in the use of tablet devices will introduce a different set of strains and postural tensions to their users, leading to further musculoskeletal problems and potentially more lost working days.

What can be done to help workers keep healthy enough to stay working?

When it comes to PC and Laptop use, I believe the majority of us have seen a version of a diagram indicating an ‘ideal’ desk based working posture. However with the increase in ‘Flexi-Desking’ and working away from the office, the ‘ideal’ posture may be difficult to attain.

When using a laptop, if possible, elevating the device so the top of the screen is at eye level is ideal. This can be done using a laptop stand, some books or a shoebox for example. This puts less strain on the neck and upper back. Furthermore, plugging in an external keyboard and mouse will allow a more neutral shoulder posture when using the laptop, putting less strain in to the shoulders and arms. This will also encourage you to have the screen further away from you, when compared to hunching over the internal keyboard and mouse on the device.

Tablets have less postural advice available largely due to the relatively short time that they have been around, and also their versatility as they can be used in a wide range of locations and positions. However the principles remain the same from the ‘ideal’ posture diagram. Try to avoid slouching and craning the neck while using the device, and have the device an appropriate distance away so that you can see the screen comfortably.

Even after all the postural advice and tips, both overuse and muscular fatigue remain common factors in the incidence of musculoskeletal pain. Remember to take regular breaks when working, as this will help reduce the likelihood of developing any aches or pains, and also help maintain your levels of concentration.

So what can be done if you are in pain or unable to work?

If you do experience neck or back pain and find that it is affecting the way that you work, manual therapy has been shown to be effective in helping relieve non-specific musculoskeletal pain which is commonly experienced by office workers. (Hidalgo et al., 2014)

Osteopathy is a primary healthcare profession which utilises manual therapy in a patient focused and physical approach to treatment, with the aim to restore, maintain and promote a patient’s health and well being. Osteopaths use manual therapy techniques, such as soft tissue massage, stretching, joint mobilisation and physical manipulation to treat a range of musculoskeletal conditions, including back and neck pain.

Having Osteopathic treatment has been shown to help relieve pain, and also help improve spinal function (Franke et al., 2014), helping to resolve potential postural problems which can be affecting your work.

Furthermore, in a recent systematic review investigating the cost effectiveness of manual therapy on musculoskeletal conditions, it has been shown that manual therapy, with the application of techniques such as soft tissue massage, manipulation, muscle energy techniques and stretching exercises, is more cost effective when compared to regular GP care methods. (Tsertsvadze et al., 2014)

So in a number of ways, Osteopathy, along with other forms of manual therapy, is helping the UK’s economy by helping its workforce get back on to its feet.


  • Franke et al., 2014 – Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment for nonspecific low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, August 2014, 15:286.
  • Hidalgo et al., 2014 – The Efficacy of Manual Therapy and Exercise for Different Stages of Non Specific Low Back Pain: an update of systematic reviews. Journal of Manual and Manipulative Therapy, 2014 May;22(2):59-74.
  • IDC, 2013 – Tablet Shipments Forecast. (
  • ONS, 2014 – Sickness Absence in the Labour Market Report. Published by the Office for National Statistics, February 2014. (—sickness-absence-in-the-labour-market.html)
  • Tsertsvadze et al., 2014 – Cost-Effectiveness of Manual Therapy for the Management of Musculoskeletal Conditions: A Systematic Review and Narrative Synthesis of Evidence from Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics. 2014 July – August;37(6):343-362.
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