How important are posture and ergonomics for workplace safety? This area of research is often debated and presented as a false dichotomy. One camp (the one I have often fallen on) contends current evidence suggests posture does not play a role in current or future pain. The other camp often points to biomechanical reasons for posture being a primary cause of pain. As is ever the case with pain, the answer is more nuanced.
Pain is never strictly biomechanical, and our bodies are resilient and adaptive, able to tolerate many postures without increased risk. However, repeatedly adopting similar positions without opportunities for adequate recovery could be problematic. Sitting up straight won’t eliminate back and neck pain, but changing positions and job duties may help. But what if you are unable to significantly alter your work environment? This study (PMID: 36298418) looked at a preventative strategy aimed to enhance the resilience of dentists and dental assistants who reported pain in the neck, upper back, lower back, or shoulders
Seventeen participants completed a 10-week resistance training program focused on the back, neck, shoulders, and trunk. The rep scheme was 3 sets of 12 reps with 1-minute rest between sets. Exercises using devices were set at 80% of 1 rep max. All other exercises used intensities that produced technical failure after 12 reps. After each resistance exercises group (2 for back, 4 for trunk, 2 for legs), participants completed three sets (20-30s, 1:1 work to rest) of 1 circuit training exercise. The program resulted in clinically significant improvements in pain and significant improvements in trunk MVIC in all planes of motion. The ergonomic assessment showed no changes.
The study does not have any follow-up data to test whether the program is protective against future pain but it did show resistance training can help reduce work-related pain, despite no changes in ergonomic assessments.