New software aims to stop your job from killing you

One of the most striking developments in the relatively quiet field of workplace health this year was that sitting down, as you’re probably doing now, is literally killing you.

Given that millions of South Africans spend most of their working life sat in a chair, the importance of this issue cannot be overstated, but what can one do? Any job that involves working on a computer for long periods of time is equally likely to involve sitting for just as long. Standing desks might seem very avant garde but there is literal evidence that they actually work, and large-scale adoption is highly unlikely.

Instead, solutions need to be found that fit into the way we currently work, sitting needs to be made less deadly.

ReadStanding breaks at work might prevent back pain 

One woman tackling just this problem is Cecily Smith, a Physiotherapist based in Cape Town who is also the Managing Member of BodyHealth Software™.  Her product is focused squarely at office workers, students and others who spend large amounts of time sitting at a desk.

This program took 4 years to create, using illustrators, animators, IT developers and most importantly, Smith’s professional experience of ergonomics and injuries in the workplace. 

Smith cites four observations that motivated her to create the software.

1.            People were sitting badly at work and had no idea of how to sit correctly

2.            Implementing ergonomics was very costly for companies and as such was either being avoided, or was being poorly implemented

3.            People were recreating the aches and pains she was treating them for in my practice through their work environment (bad posture) and their work habits  (sustained postures, especially poor ones and repetitive activities/tasks associated with their job), often creating an unnecessary pain cycle

4.            People were running out of their medical aid and having to live with aches and pains because they had no way of helping themselves.

Bodyhealth is not only based on science, it’s backed by it. Smith conducted a clinical trial in 2013 and reports that “I wanted to assess how well the neck exercises in the software program actually helped office workers with postural neck pain reduce their symptoms.  Results from the trial show that there is a significant improvement in individuals with postural neck pain who use the neck pain exercise module.”

Thus, Bodyhealth Software™ has been created to help individuals who spend long hours in front of the computer ease their aches and pains.  This is accomplished by:

1.            Helping people to sit ergonomically at their workstation

2.            Helping people to move in short bursts, in specific ways, at their computer, to prevent and reduce specific aches and pains (e.g. neck pain/back pain)

Many people know that they sit incorrectly at their workstation, but don’t know how to correct their posture and improve their computer workstation setup. Sitting correctly is an important part in reducing one’s aches and pains. 

Some things that cause these health problems include:

1.            Bending the neck for too long while working (either by looking at papers on the desk or a screen positioned too low)

2.            Positioning the elbows incorrectly (the angle too sharp/close to the body and the keyboard placed too high in relation to the elbow)

3.            Shrugging the shoulders while typing/moussing

4.            Positioning the monitor too far away causing one to lean forwards too often in the chair while working

5.            Sitting without a back support or not using one’s back support

6.            Positioning the chair too low and not using a footrest if necessary

Bodyhealth guides people to be their own ergonomist, so that they can assess and adjust their computer workstation themselves, to be correctly positioned ergonomically for better health.

Sitting in the same position for too long, or doing repetitive activities, especially when the body is poorly positioned, causes fatigue of the associated body area as well as reducing circulation and oxygen supply to tissues, which may then result in tissue damage and injuries.  Common injuries associated with computer use are neck and back pain, forearm pain and carpal tunnel syndrome. 

Bodyhealth Software™ provides targeted 30 second exercises performed at one’s desk throughout the working day.  Users determine the frequency of their exercise as well as the specific injury/stress/no injury exercise module that they would like to use to help reduce/prevent aches and pains. There are 19 different exercise programmes that are tailored to specific injuries, and can be selected at any point necessary to help address a problem.

Read: Unpretty sitting

Health24 trialled this software over a month. Running a website inevitably entails many hours sat at a desk and we were all too aware of the health risks associated with this. We found the software to be easy to use and not overly intrusive. Indeed, the sporadic breaks provided a welcome interruption. At the end of the month several of us had felt a marked difference in ailments like neck tension and lower back pain. We’ve now adopted this software full time.

Sitting might be killing you softly, but for the foreseeable future millions of South African’s will earn their living while doing it. Software like Bodyhealth could provide a much-needed intervention to minimise these negative effects as far as possible.

BodyHealth software is available to purchase here.

Image credit: Dead at work by Shutterstock

Read more:How is the back constructed?
Too much sitting may cause depression 
Diabetes risk from sitting around


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