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Is Workplace Ergonomics the Answer to Low Back Pain?


Ergonomic interventions have often been heralded as the go-to solution in the quest to conquer low back pain in the workplace. From sleek, high-end office chairs to strategically designed workspaces, the push for ergonomic environments has gained significant traction. But how effective are these ergonomic strategies in reality? Are we investing in genuine solutions or just buying into a well-marketed myth? Your pain may relate to your satisfaction with your current work role (Seeberg et al, 2019).

The Evidence

Recent systematic reviews have shed new light on this topic, challenging long-held beliefs about workplace ergonomics. A comprehensive analysis of physical and organisational ergonomic interventions by Drissen et al.(2013) revealed that these measures are often no more effective than no intervention in reducing short and long-term LBP and neck pain prevalence/incidence and intensity.

Particularly eye-opening is the finding that specific physical and ergonomic interventions like certain types of chairs and arm boards showed some effectiveness in reducing neck pain. However, based on a limited number of studies, these results suggest that ergonomic solutions’ success might be more nuanced than previously thought (Van Eerd et al, 2015).

The Complexity of Workplace Health

One key takeaway from these findings is the multifaceted nature of workplace health. Low back and neck pain are complex issues with multiple contributing factors, including physical strain, work stress, job satisfaction and overall lifestyle. Therefore, addressing them requires more than physical adjustments to our work environments.

Johnson et al (2021), conducted a trial involving 763 office workers to evaluate ergonomic interventions on neck pain. Participants were divided into two groups; one received ergonomic desk adjustments and health education, while the other group received these adjustments along with a program of neck exercises. Contrary to expectations, both groups experienced an increase in sick leave and a reduction in productivity after the interventions.

So, What Should You Do?

The journey to a pain-free workday is not as straightforward as purchasing the latest ergonomic chair or standing desk. While ergonomic interventions can play a role, they are just one piece of a larger puzzle. A holistic approach that includes lifestyle changes, workplace wellness programs, and an awareness of the multifactorial nature of low back pain is essential. As we navigate this complex terrain, let’s remain open to evolving evidence and adaptable in our workplace strategies for maintaining health and productivity.

Before you invest in that next ergonomic product, take a moment to assess your overall workplace wellness strategy. Are you moving enough, sleeping well, managing stress effectively, and maintaining a positive relationship with your work? The simplest solutions are often the most effective.


Driessen, M. T., Proper, K. I., van Tulder, M. W., Anema, J. R., Bongers, P. M., & van der Beek, A. J. (2013). The effectiveness of physical and organisational ergonomic interventions on low back pain and neck pain: a systematic review. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 67(4), 277–285. doi:10.1136/oem.2009.047548

Johnston, V., Chen, X., Welch, A., Sjøgaard, G., Comans, T. A., McStea, M., Straker, L., Melloh, M., Pereira, M., & O’Leary, S. (2021). A cluster-randomised trial of workplace ergonomics and neck-specific exercise versus ergonomics and health promotion for office workers to manage neck pain -a secondary outcome analysis.BMC musculoskeletal disorders,22(1), 68. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12891-021-03945-y

Seeberg, K. G. V., Andersen, L. L., Bengtsen, E., & Sundstrup, E. (2019). Effectiveness of workplace interventions in rehabilitating musculoskeletal disorders and preventing its consequences among workers with physical and sedentary employment: systematic review protocol.Systematic reviews,8(1), 219. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13643-019-1127-0

Van Eerd, D., Munhall, C., Irvin, E., Rempel, D., Brewer, S., van der Beek, A. J., Dennerlein, J. T., Tullar, J., Skivington, K., Pinion, C., & Amick, B. (2016). Effectiveness of workplace interventions in the prevention of upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders and symptoms: an update of the evidence.Occupational and environmental medicine,73(1), 62–70. https://doi.org/10.1136/oemed-2015-102992

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