Rising back pain and long-term illness associated with working at home – ONS | Work from home

Anyone who has come out of Covid-19 lockdowns with a frozen shoulder or neck spasm after spending hours leaning over their laptop at the kitchen table will be familiar with the dangers of working from home.

Now, the country’s number-crunching firms have provided evidence that one reason for the UK’s chronic labor shortage is that tens of thousands of additional people are now sick in the long run as a result of teleworking.

In a sign that a poor work environment could have an impact on the economy, the Office for National Statistics found a spike in the number of people unfit for work due to neck and back injuries. Overall, the Office for National Statistics said the number of people identified as economically inactive due to long-term illness rose from 2 million to 2.5 million in the three years of 2019, with more than 70% of the increase – 363,000 – occurring after the arrival of Covid. in early 2020.

But a breakdown of the total showed that the number of people leaving the workforce with neck and back problems rose by 62,000 – the second most cited reason.

Gavin Burt, an orthopedist and director of the Backs & Beyond clinic in London, said he was not surprised by the ONS numbers because he had seen a huge increase in patients coming in with back and neck problems, especially people in their 20s.

“In the office, you have a really well-engineered architecture, which helps reduce repetitive strain injuries (RSI) and back pain. But we never think about the work environment at home.”

Burt, a member of the General Orthopedic Council, added: “People were working with one leg on the bed, or one leg of the bed, in a slightly crooked position on the laptop or on uncomfortable dining chairs or sofas. They are injuries from overworking, in poor posture for longer than if they were working in the office.”

The Office for National Statistics said that the elderly still make up the majority of inactive due to long-term illness, but that the sharpest relative increases in recent years have been among those aged 25 to 34. Long-term illness in that age group rose by 42%, compared with a 16% jump for people ages 50 to 64.

“The largest increase came from people with ‘other health problems or disabilities.’ While this category includes people affected by prolonged Covid, we believe this is only one of many contributing factors,” said Hugh Stickland, chief statistician at the Office for National Statistics. The highest incidence was among people with back or neck problems. It is possible that the increase in working at home has given rise to these types of conditions.”

Burt said he has already noticed an improvement in some of his clients, which he attributes to returning part-time to office work, and the commute associated with it, especially for those who travel on public transportation.

“People often think commuting is a chore, but it has got people up and walking,” Burt said. “I’ve already seen people’s conditions improve by moving to hybrid work, back to commuting, and once they’re up and commuting and going somewhere else, it gives them the emotional space to think about exercise.”

The growing number of economically inactive people has been a major factor behind the labor shortage that has alarmed the Bank of England and contributed to higher interest rates this year.

Lockdowns during the pandemic have led to an increase in the number of economically inactive people reporting depression, “bad nerves” and anxiety as their main health condition in 2020 and 2021, but the Office for National Statistics said numbers are now back to pre-pandemic levels.

Employers should focus on making sure their employees have workplace assessments of their offices and home, said Alison Carter, a researcher in human resource leadership and wellbeing at the Institute for Employment Studies,

“From an employee well-being standpoint, we need to encourage people to come back to work who drop off the radar and if musculoskeletal issues are the cause, there are physical workplace adjustments that can be made,” she said.