The Balance between Physical Activity at Work & in Our Free Time Reduces the Risk of Neck and Back Pain

Pain in the spine, a man with backache, injury in the human neck, chiropractic treatments concept with highlighted skeletonAbout 90 percent of people will experience one or more neck pain or back pain episodes in life. Therefore, it is important to know how to reduce the risk by avoiding any activities that may aggravate the neck or back.

An ongoing study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) is looking at the impact of physical activity and its impact on neck and back pain. It is part of the EU’s Back-UP project, which is aimed at finding better and more individualized methods for treating neck pain and back pain.


The study’s primary participants included industrial workers and employees in jobs with a lot of physical activity such as nurses, cleaners, and people in the service professions who are required to stand a lot.

In the past, moving more and sitting less is what healthcare professionals suggested, but this study helps to show that it may not be the best advice for everyone.

“Regular physical activity is still an important key to good health and disease prevention. Our message is that people who have physical work may benefit from taking rest breaks during the workday,” says Cecilie K. Øverås, a Ph.D. candidate at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Public Health.

“This could reduce the risk of neck and back pain, which is one of the leading causes of disability and impaired quality of life,” she added.

Self-Reporting is Unreliable

Øverås and her colleagues conducted a systematic review of research in a field that has previously shown some inconsistent results.

“Self-reporting of physical behavior has proven to be unreliable. As a rule, we think that we sit less than we actually do. In the studies we looked at, objective measurements were taken in people’s daily lives and included both work and leisure activity. The equipment used included pedometers and accelerometers that can measure energy consumption for various types of activities – like sitting, standing, or walking,” says Øverås.


Other studies have shown that a high physical activity level at work is associated with more recorded days of sick leave. Øverås believes it is important to find a good balance between activity and rest.

When deciding on the level of physical activity and the right exercise choice, the lifestyle of the individual should be taken into account. For example, a nurse who walks over 20,000 steps during the workday may need to focus on strength training for her back to help with any lower back pain she may experience during the day. The type of physical activity and what that individual does during their day is key. A lot of activities are good for the back, but others can put a strain on it.

This study helps to outline the importance of health care professionals getting to know their patients’ daily routines. This can enable them to make recommendations that are supportive of the patient’s needs while taking their overall burden into account.