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Associations of office workers’ objectively assessed occupational sitting, standing and stepping time with musculoskeletal symptoms

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We examined the association of musculoskeletal symptoms (MSS) with workplace sitting, standing and stepping time, as well as sitting and standing time accumulation (i.e. usual bout duration of these activities), measured objectively with the activPAL3 monitor. Using baseline data from the Stand Up Victoria trial (216 office workers, 14 workplaces), cross-sectional associations of occupational activities with self-reported MSS (low-back, upper and lower extremity symptoms in the last three months) were examined using probit regression, correcting for clustering and adjusting for confounders. Sitting bout duration was significantly (p < 0.05) associated, non-linearly, with MSS, such that those in the middle tertile displayed the highest prevalence of upper extremity symptoms. Other associations were non-significant but sometimes involved large differences in symptom prevalence (e.g. 38%) by activity. Though causation is unclear, these non-linear associations suggest that sitting and its alternatives (i.e. standing and stepping) interact with MSS and this should be considered when designing safe work systems.

Practitioner summary: We studied associations of objectively assessed occupational activities with musculoskeletal symptoms in office workers. Workers who accumulated longer sitting bouts reported fewer upper extremity symptoms. Total activity duration was not significantly associated with musculoskeletal symptoms. We underline the importance of considering total volumes and patterns of activity time in musculoskeletal research.
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Keywords: Musculoskeletal symptoms; office workers; posture; sitting; standing

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science, Curtin University, Perth, Australia 2: School of Public Health, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia 3: Deakin Health Economics, Centre for Population Health Research, Deakin University, Geelong, Australia 4: Centre for Population Health Research, School of Health & Social Development, Deakin University, Geelong, Australia

Publication date: September 2, 2018

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