Cubicle Workers: Here's How to Fight Chronic Pain With Science and Technology

03/28/2015 10:26 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2015

Among employees who spend hours each day in cubicles and offices, pecking away at keyboards, slouching in cheap desk chairs, and squinting at bright screens, chronic pain is incredibly prevalent. And while it can be easy to write off the pain as part of the package, it's important that you understand the causes of these problems and fight back in order to remain productive and profitable for your employer.

Chronic Pain in the Workplace 

Pain in the workplace is more than a nuisance; it's an expensive problem that costs American businesses billions of dollars. According to a report by the Institute of Medicine for the 2010 fiscal year, the value of lost productivity was somewhere between $297.4 billion and $333.5 billion. When compared to a similar study that analyzed the total cost of lost productivity due to pain in 2003 ($61.2 billion), it's apparent that the issue is getting worse and something must be done sooner rather than later.

When analyzed over a two-week period, one research study found that almost 13 percent of the total U.S. workforce experienced a drop off in productivity as a result of headaches (5.4 percent), back pain (3.2 percent), arthritis (2 percent), or other musculoskeletal pain (2 percent).

Causes of Chronic Pain in the Office

When looking at the most commonly reported issues -- headaches, back and neck pain, and arthritis -- it's easy to identify some mutual causes. In many situations, these types of pain are directly related to one or more of the following when looking at office or cubicle workers:

  • Poor posture. Likely the No. 1 cause of chronic pain in the workplace, poor posture leads to back and neck issues, headaches, and other musculoskeletal problems. In fact, learning how to correct bad desk posture can alleviate existing pain almost immediately.

  • Repetitive motion. When looking at the common causes of wrist pain, muscle strains, or chronic joint issues, long-term, repetitive motion is almost always one of the culprits. According to The Hand and Wrist Institute, "Carpal tunnel syndrome is most often seen in people whose occupations require ... the constant use of computer keyboards and mice. As a result, CTS is prevalent among people in clerical positions, especially secretarial and data-entry jobs." (Source:

  • Visual straining. For people with already-poor eyesight, straining to see a computer screen only exacerbates existing symptoms and can lead to chronic headaches and tension.

Tips for Eliminating and Reducing Pain

Looking for tangible ways to eliminate or reduce office-related pain? Here are some tips and tricks thousands of others have used to successfully conquer pain and reclaim their productivity in the workplace:

  • Give a standing desk a chance. Standing desks have come a long way and are no longer considered taboo or strange. In fact, you'd be surprised to learn how many of your peers are already using them. Depending on the model you choose, most standing desks are actually devices you place on top of an existing desk. You can then raise or lower them to your desired height -- allowing you to sit, stand, or alternate between the two. According to extensive research related to the dangers of sitting for long periods of time, a standing desk may help people fight cardiovascular disease, obesity, and pain related to poor posture.

  • Try an ergonomic keyboard. Do you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, forearm pain, cramps, or muscle strains? An investment in an "ergonomic keyboard" may help by allowing you to keep your chest open, with shoulders drawn back, and the wrists in a more neutral position. A simple Google search for "ergonomic keyboards" will supply you with more information than you need -- but you should expect to pay between $75 and $200 for a good model.

  • Get regular exercise. Don't forget about exercise. Even if it means coming into work earlier or leaving a little later, it's worth taking 30 minutes to break up your sedentary routine during the day. A little bit of cardio can increase circulation, loosen stiff joints, and release powerful pain-killing endorphins.

  • Consider surgery. While it may be a last resort option, surgery can be the best option for serious, chronic issues like carpal tunnel syndrome and neck pain. Just be sure to get multiple opinions and research all possible risks and benefits before proceeding. The good news is that most of these surgeries are very common and minimally invasive with quick recovery times.

Be Proactive -- Not Reactive 

The idea is to be proactive when it comes to workplace pain, rather than reactive. By implementing these tips now -- whether or not you're already experiencing symptoms or issues -- you can ensure you'll be happier, healthier, and exponentially more productive for years to come.