You Deserve a (Micro)Break
By Paul Hooper, DC, MPH, MS
Microbreaks are short breaks that are taken frequently throughout the workday. Properly used, they can reduce the strain on anatomical structures. They also have been shown to positively affect productivity.1 Obviously, not all jobs or tasks are amenable to the use of microbreaks. But for those that are, they make a great deal of sense.
A microbreak is a break that lasts anywhere from 30 seconds to as long as 5 minutes, and is meant to be taken frequently – as often as every 10 minutes. Evidence suggests microbreaks actually reduce muscle fatigue by as much as 20-50 percent in an eight-hour day.2
It's important to contrast the microbreak with the traditional break at work. As an example, workers often begin their shift at 8 a.m. Around 10 a.m., they take a scheduled 15-minute break, after which they return to work. At noon or so, they get another break for lunch (also scheduled). They return to their jobs at 12:30 p.m., with another 15-minute break scheduled at some point in the afternoon.
To illustrate the microbreak, I'll use the following example. When someone uses a manual typewriter (remember those?), regardless of how fast a typist they are, at some point the sheet of paper runs out. The typist must stop the act of typing long enough to put in a new sheet. While this only takes a few seconds, it forces the typist to take a microbreak.
Contrast this to someone using a modern computer, who thus has a never-ending sheet of paper and can type for an indefinite period of time. With that in mind, it's no real surprise that conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome are more common in computer users.
To offset the effects of constantly striking the computer keys, I've long suggested drinking a glass of water every hour. This has significant benefits for the typist. First, it stops the typist long enough to take a microbreak. Second, it forces the typist to stop periodically, leave their computer, walk (to get a new glass of water) and perhaps even go to the bathroom. In other words, it makes them become physically active. Finally and perhaps most importantly, it hydrates the typist, which is always a good thing.
Microbreaks as Prevention
Stanford University provides the following tips to minimize the development of health issues by taking microbreaks and/or changing up your routine3 (I've made a few changes):
It is important to build microbreaks into the daily routine. As such, Stanford also provides the following ideas for making breaks a part of the workday:
The folks at Stanford also provide the following exercises and stretches as suggestions:
Eyes – Eye strain is particularly problematic for those who stare at computer screens for long periods:
Neck and Shoulders – We seem to live in an environment that places a constant strain on the neck and shoulders:
Hands – Problems with the hands and wrists are endemic in the workplace:
Low Back – Even though we know more about low back pain than ever, it doesn't seem to be going away:
Chiropractic and Microbreaks
Exercise and other aspects of healthy living have always been a part of the armamentarium of the chiropractic profession. In my classes over the years, I've taught that many conditions have multiple causes and multiple solutions. It would appear that the use of microbreaks is one such part of the puzzle. Talk to your chiropractor to learn more.
Paul Hooper, DC, MPH, MS, a 1975 graduate of Cleveland Chiropractic College - Kansas City, is the clinical communications editor for Comprehensive Industrial Disability Management Corp. He can be reached via e-mail with questions and comments at