For immediate release
Munich, May 31, 2021 - a study conducted by the Associate Professorship of Conservative and Rehabilitative Orthopaedics at the Technical University of Munich and Walkolution showed how patients with lower back pain benefit by the use of the Walkolution workstation.
Office work and back pain
Daily sitting at work for many hours put enormous pressure on the spine, mostly at critical junctions in the lumbar spine and lower back region, often resulting in herniated discs, chronic back pain and spinal degeneration. Many also suffer mental effects from back pain, all too often leading to overprescription of medication and high costs for the health care system.
This problem has been exacerbated during the pandemic, as many knowledge workers in home offices have been forced to spend even more time sitting. Objective data indicate that the average office worker spends more than 10 hours sitting on weekdays.
New TUM study reveals effectiveness of Walkolution treadmill desk for back pain
In a groundbreaking pilot study with lower back pain patients, Felix Becker and colleagues from the Technical University Munich (TUM) could show that the use of the Walkolution treadmill workstation improved motor control, tissue stiffness, overall physical activity and subjective health.
The objective was to find out whether the use of a treadmill desk can improve the perception of pain, the restriction caused by lower back pain and thus the overall quality of life of the subjects. Furthermore, it was to be examined whether the movement behavior at the workplace changes, in order to show a preventive measure against back pain in the office setting. A secondary goal of the study was to establish the basis for further research on the topic and to evaluate the feasibility of a large-scale controlled intervention study on this matter.
Lower back pain: another pandemic
The change from predominantly physical labour into increasingly desk-based jobs over the last 150 years has given rise to a largely sedentary population, especially across developed countries.
With his provocative statement, "Sitting is the new smoking," Dr. James Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, finally raised higher awareness of this modern sitting disease in the general population. Sedentariness, defined as any waking behaviour characterized by an energy expenditure ≤1.5 METs while in a sitting or reclining posture, has long been overlooked as an independent risk factor for chronic diseases. By now, the prevailing view in medical and scientific research has changed drastically. Studies show that sedentary time is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia and even all-cause mortality.
Despite the emergence of official clinical guidelines to reduce sitting time, the sedentary lifestyle is still pervasive.
The omnipresent convenience of the civilized world, with escalators, elevators and cars, makes it difficult to break habits. Likewise, the social and professional context leaves little room for people to be more physically active. Students and office workers tend to sit on the way to the office, while studying or working, during lunch and even in the evening in front of the TV in order to rest after a hard day. This sedentary lifestyle not seldom ends in a vicious circle of even moving less due to occurring health issues and people not seldom pay an all too high price for that.
Economic costs of back pain
Besides an increased risk of the aforementioned severe diseases, sedentariness also carries the risk of suffering from musculoskeletal disorders. The most common consequence in society is back pain.
According to the Global Spine Care Initiative, back pain is the main cause of disability in most countries with over 500 million people affected in all age groups worldwide.
While in most cases symptoms resolve within six to eight weeks, up to a quarter of cases lead to chronic conditions. These can have an immense effect on a person's daily life, as well as social and mental well-being.
Chronic back pain also brings negative economic consequences, as only about half of those suffering from chronic back pain for more than six months return to work. In Germany incurred healthcare costs of 3.6 billion euros due to non-specific back pain. On average, an employee suffering from chronic back pain loses 5.2 hours of productive work time per week .
The study design
6 adult male office workers with a predominantly sedentary job of at least six hours sitting per day in an age range from 26 to 47 years with non-specific lower back pain were included and the study took place between July and December 2020. Due to its pilot approach, this study was designed as an uncontrolled prospective intervention study.
The aim of the intervention was to replace the usual sedentary activity during the working day with walking for a period of 4 weeks. Therefore, subjects were supplied with a Walkolution treadmill desk. It consists of a non-electronic treadmill, an integrated desk plate and a backrest. In addition to walking upright, the backrest allowed to change into a leaning position from time to time. The subjects were instructed to use the treadmill as often as possible and to refrain from sedentary behavior during the workday. They were allowed to initially supplement the walking activity with occasional sitting breaks for adaptation purposes.
The research findings in detail
Subjective health and perceived stress
Chronic back and neck pain also take a significant toll on mental health and wellbeing, and can lead to ‘disuse syndrome.’ This term, coined in the 1980s, encapsulates the idea that chronic pain conditions act as a downward spiral, leading to more sedentary behaviour and, as a result, a continual decline in both physical and mental capabilities. The concept of ‘use it or lose it’ means that chronic back and neck pain can adversely affect a person’s social and professional interactions, their sexual health, self-image and self-confidence, recreational activities, parenting or caretaking capacity, and their ability to perform everyday tasks related to personal hygiene, cooking, cleaning and overall quality of life.
In the study, subjective health and perceived stress were examined with questionaires, both before and after the intervention. All participants were able to further decrease their scores over the intervention period.
The results show a clear change in sitting behavior in all subjects during the intervention. Not only the number of sitting bouts during the working day decreased, but also the sitting time within the bouts decreased by almost one third. The average amount of steps taken during a working day increased by 18.7% during the intervention.
Tissue stiffness of the thoracolumbar fascia is a hallmark of lower back pain. Inactivity and altered movement patterns can worsen connective tissue adhesions resulting in increased movement restriction. This is especially the case in the presence of pain and inflammation. The study showed decreased tissue stiffness of the thoracolumbar fascia after the intervention, reflected in the MCTB (Movement Control Test Battery) results.
This pilot study showed that the use of the Walkolution treadmill workstation can reduce pain intensity and physical restrictions in daily life in office workers with low back pain and lead to improved motor control of the lumbar spine. The intervention appears to release connective tissue adhesions and reduce tissue stiffness of the thoracolumbar fascia, which is prone to lower back pain. Another benefit of the treadmill desk was enhanced physical activity and decreased sitting time during the workday. All of the changes also appear to increase subjective health and quality of life.
The Associate Professorship of Conservative and Rehabilitative Orthopaedics focuses on developing and optimizing non-surgical treatment options for people with pathologies of the musculoskeletal system as well as those aiming to recover functionality after surgery. The aim of our work is to create more effective, faster and more economical courses of therapy while reducing the need for surgical intervention. To that end, we capture and analyze images of movement and are active in the field of shoe development.
Images and video footage are available for download on our press page.
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