MSK and office ergonomics: Moving beyond the chair

Not long ago, the prevailing wisdom was to buy an ergonomic chair when an employee was missing work because of chronic back pain. Or, if an employee suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome, employers could purchase an ergonomic keyboard to ease the pain.

Those are both worthy and beneficial options, of course. But musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions range from head to toe. They also impact employees in all professions — not only those who sit at their desks all day. There are other, and often more effective, ways to deal with MSK issues.

One of them is preventing MSK problems in the first place.

Why prevention matters when addressing MSK conditions
Recent statistics show that MSK disorders are associated with high costs to employers, including:1

  • Absenteeism
  • Productivity losses
  • Increased health care, disability and workers’ compensation costs

MSK conditions play a major part in limiting mobility and dexterity. That can lead to early retirement from work, a lower chance of accumulating wealth, and less ability and desire to take part in social roles.2 Even dating back to 2012, 290.8 million workdays were lost due to back or neck pain.3

MSK conditions range throughout the body. They include:

  • Arthritis and other rheumatic conditions
  • Back and neck pain
  • Osteoporosis
  • Sports injuries to the pelvis, spine and extremities

That’s a lot of ground to cover, which even the most sophisticated ergonomic chair can’t address.

Setting aside the doom and gloom, let’s talk about ways you can help employees avoid MSK issues.

  • Build employee awareness about the importance of increasing movement and movement quality.
  • Reach and engage the total employee population.
  • Triage higher-risk, higher-need employees.
  • Attract and retain employees with an ergonomic-friendly environment.

Movement quality: New thinking about MSK issues
Prevention methods are based on one simple idea: The body is the best tool when it comes to dealing with MSK issues. To help strengthen and stabilize bones and joints, build awareness about movement quality and being intentional about the body’s actions during the workday. You can do this without investing in expensive equipment.

New thinking about the body as a tool takes time and a tailored approach to addressing MSK conditions in your workplace. It’s about focusing on the environment and the employees.

An on-site ergonomist can bring that focus.

On-site ergonomists: Prevention starts with trust
An on-site ergonomic specialist takes solutions beyond the fitness center and brings them right to the cubicle. On-site specialists:

  • Provide personalized service
  • Offer self-correction tools that are available 24/7
  • Encourage movement quality — even if it starts with one 15-minute walk a few days a week

An on-site ergonomist dives into your company’s culture and gets employees thinking about movement on a daily basis. They engage, educate and collaborate using proven behavior change models and resources. When it’s appropriate, an ergonomist can also help you develop a strategy to provide fitness and wellness spaces to your employees without breaking the bank.

Moving doesn’t have to mean sweating. On-site ergonomists know this. Your employees can trust them for smart, expertly designed ways to move through the routine activities of their workday. This can help prevent new or worsening MSK symptoms.

And that could mean moving beyond the need for an ergonomic chair.

To learn more, visit

Join the conversation! What have you and your employees learned about movement quality to prevent MSK disorders? Tell us about it in the comments below or on our social media pages.


1. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders and ergonomics. Last reviewed, Feb. 2018. Accessed March 5, 2019.
2. World Health Organization. Musculoskeletal conditions (fact sheet). Feb. 2018. Accessed March 5, 2019.
3.United States Bone and Joint Initiative. Bed and lost work days. The Burden of Musculoskeletal Diseases in the United States. 2016.


About the Author

heather headshotHeather MacAyeal Hardy, CHC AADP
Senior Director, On-Site Health Promotion and Wellness Coaching, Prevention Solutions, Optum

Heather is a certified Health and Wellness Coach. In her role at Optum, she leads product innovation and engagement capabilities. She and her on-site staff help our customers enhance their consumer health engagement and company culture. The goal is to influence positive behavior change that ultimately affects our client’s population health. Heather joined Optum On-Site Services in 2014. Prior to taking on the product leadership role, she served both as a coach and health promotion specialist in the field. Her work with opioid awareness campaigns and corporate wellness strategy has earned her clients local and national recognition.


Leave a Reply