Micro-Breaks: a win-win

Workers in a variety of professions struggle with a multitude of aches and pains. Among them, some of the most common are: neck, shoulder, spine, buttocks, upper and lower extremity discomfort, muscle/joint tightness, fatigue and general tiredness.

Not only can workplace hazards be physical, but they can also be psychological, social, and biomechanical.

These symptoms often lead to decreased productivity and general mood in the workplace.

Throughout a given workday, most workers are traditionally allotted some type of break. When thinking about a break at work, it is likely that the first thing that comes to mind is a traditional lunch break.

That makes sense because for many people in the workforce, that’s the only break in an 8-12 hour workday. During most of these breaks, workers grab a seat, eat some food, play on their phone, maybe watch a show, or catch up on the news for 30 minutes before heading back to work.

In recent years, however, there have been numerous studies researching more nontraditional work breaks and the benefits they have for workers and companies alike. These breaks are called micro-breaks.

Micro-breaks are pretty much what they sound like. They are short breaks (ranging from 20 seconds to 15 minutes) that are taken multiple times throughout the day (every 30-120 minutes) outside of a typical 30 or 60 minute lunch break.

Active micro-breaks are a specific type of micro-break that is even more unique than what most people picture a work break to be.

Active micro-breaks are not passively sitting in a chair drinking a cup of coffee, they are, as their name would suggest, active.

You may have heard, or experienced first-hand, many tech companies have a similar idea by providing opportunities to play ping-pong or a quick pick-up basketball game at the office.

This encourages a break from normal work activities by partaking in an active break. This is also a way for them to look cooler than “your father’s office.”

Recently, physical therapists have been utilized to implement occupation specific exercise programs for micro-breaks in a wide range of workplaces ranging from call centers to home offices to construction sites.

These active micro-breaks include stretching, strength training, core stabilization, and ergonomic interventions.

A systematic review by Vitoulas, et al. was published in 2022 that took a closer look at what the research is saying about active micro-breaks for workers. (Note: A systematic review is a study that synthesizes the results from multiple independent studies and is regarded as the top of the research hierarchy.)

In this systematic review, they set out to assess the value of the physical therapy lead interventions provided during active micro-breaks across a variety of occupations, including both professions that require prolonged standing and those that require prolonged sitting.

Some of their findings were surprising so let’s take a look…

Across the 15 studies that were reviewed, they found that physical therapist lead active micro-breaks in the work place resulted in the employees experiencing:

-Reduced Physical Pain

-Reduced Fatigue

-Improved Mood

-Improved Memory

-Reduced Speech Errors

-Reduced Eye Strain

-Improved Productivity!

The research also shows that physical therapy lead programs in the workplace were more effective than exercise programs outside of work (at home or at a gym) at achieving these outcomes in the workplace.

One study specifically looked at reported pain during work and found that there was a 78% reduction in pain in the work-based exercise group versus 42% reduction of pain in the home-based exercise group.

This does not take away the benefits of exercise outside of the office, of course, but it does indicate that frequent active micro-breaks throughout the workday are significantly more effective at reducing a worker’s musculoskeletal pain at work than exercise performed outside of the office.

One of the most surprising findings in the research is that not only did having the employees take frequent, albeit short, breaks throughout the work day 3x/week not decrease productivity, but it actually improved productivity of the workers.

Implementing active micro-breaks throughout the work day may be a rare occasion where it is truly a win-win situation for both the employees and employers.

“Ideally, an active workout/micro-break program in the workplace that includes stretching, strengthening, torso stabilization as well as ergonomic interventions in the workplace, should focus on the needs of each profession.” (Vitoulas, 2022).

If you are interested in learning how to implement an active micro-break program at your work, or you’d like to implement a micro-break plan at your business, Switchback Direct Physical Therapy would love to hear from you!

You can call or text 208-557-1470 or check out our contact page.

Citation: Vitoulas, S.; Konstantis, V.; Drizi, I.; Vrouva, S.; Koumantakis, G.A.; Sakellari, V. The Effect of Physiotherapy Interventions in the Workplace through Active Micro-Break Activities for Employees with Standing and Sedentary Work. Healthcare 2022, 10, 2073. https:// doi.org/10.3390/healthcare10102073


Dr. Tyler Burke

DPT, Owner and Founder of Switchback Direct PT

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