A Behavioural Change Conquers Office Syndrome


  • About 50% of office workers suffer from office syndrome. Most of the patients have wrong sitting positions and suffer chronic pain in their neck, shoulder and back muscles.
  • There are various symptoms of office syndrome, including the inflammation of neck, shoulder and back muscles; carpal tunnel syndrome; wrist and elbow pain; trigger finger; and a herniated disk.
  • Those who do not work in an office can also develop office syndrome if they are in a wrong or same position for a long time.
  • A behavioural change is a long-term solution to office syndrome and is easier than treatment required when the illness becomes chronic.

If you ask people whether they have ever suffered pain in their neck, shoulders or back, many young office workers will say ‘yes’ because the symptoms have been parts of the everyday life of working people. Our colleagues often complain that “Today the back pain peaks. I need a massage.” We may have painful and stiff neck and shoulders sometimes and the pain is actually a symptom of the office syndrome.

The illness is called office syndrome because it usually happens to office workers. In fact other people can suffer from it if they remain in one same position for a long period. Those who work at home or play video games in cafés can have the illness as well.

Dr. Romnat Roatchanasut, a doctor specialising in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Hua Chiew Hospital, says as many as 50% of office workers suffer from office syndrome and more than 80% of those suffering from it have painful muscles in their neck, shoulders and back. This results from the wrong body postures that keep neck and back in a wrong position for a long time. Moreover, other causes include insufficient rest, tension, anaemia, and hyperthyroidism/hypothyroidism. People who have these factors carry more risks of suffering from office syndrome.

The symptoms of office syndrome differ widely, ranging from minor ones like the inflammation of neck, shoulder and back muscles to carpal tunnel syndrome, wrist and elbow pain and trigger finger. The severe symptom is a herniated disk. If you start to have stiff muscles, you must change your behaviour at once. This is to solve the problem at its root cause. Recommended behavioural changes are as follows:

  • Move your body, stretch and correct your position: Stiffness and pain happen when you are stationary. If you remain in a wrong position for a long time, it will expedite the above-mentioned symptoms. If you start to feel pain or stiffness in any organ, you should get up, move your body or stretch for a while. Besides, you should read about a proper sitting position and apply it to effectively prevent office syndrome.
  • Adjust your office equipment to suit your body: The environment is a major cause of office syndrome. If you sit on a substandard chair or your computer is poorly placed on your desk in the way that can keep your neck and back in a wrong posture, you can develop office syndrome. The solution is, therefore, acquiring standard equipment and keeping it in a proper position. Your chair should neither sag nor be too soft. Its position should match your desk so that you will not have to lift your body or bend too much while being at work. When you sit, your feet must lie comfortably on the floor. If your feet do not touch the floor, you must find a footrest. A notebook computer is more problematic than a desktop one because the keyboard of a notebook is close to its screen and your will have to bend while using it. An external keyboard is the answer because it lets you use your notebook computer conveniently.
  • Exercise to make your muscles strong and flexible: In an office, some people often have back pain while others never complain about any pain. This is because the strength and flexibility of people’s muscles and bodies vary. Those who work out regularly have stronger and more flexible muscles and thus carry lower risks of office syndrome. To avoid the illness, you must exercise to strengthen your muscles and body.
  • Lose weight to limit injury: Body weight is a key factor of office syndrome especially when it comes to back and knee pain. The heavier a body is, the more it affects the back and knees. Weight control can limit chances of injury.

Normally the improvement of behaviors and the environment cure office syndrome for good. However, you should see a doctor if the behavioral and environmental improvement does not help and you have chronic pain and stiffness as well as limb weakness.

Source: Hua Chiew Hospital