The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of breaks on low back pain, discomfort, and work productivity in office workers. Publications were systematically searched in several databases from 1980 to December 2016. Relevant randomized and non-randomized controlled trials were retrieved and assessed for methodological quality by two independent reviewers. Quality of evidence was assessed and rated according to GRADE guidelines.
Eight randomized controlled trials and three non-randomized controlled trials were included in this review, of which 10 were rated as high-quality studies. The break programs were highly heterogeneous with work duration ranging from 5 min to 2 h and break duration ranging from 20 s to 30 min.
The results showed low-quality evidence for the conflicting effect of breaks on pain and low-quality evidence for the positive effect of breaks on discomfort. When stratified by type of breaks, moderate-quality evidence was found for the positive effect of active breaks with postural change for pain and discomfort. Moderate-quality evidence indicated that the use of breaks had no detrimental effect on work productivity. More high-quality studies are needed before recommendations can be given. Within a number of methodological limitations that are present in the published studies, active breaks with postural change may be effective in reducing pain in workers with acute low back pain and to prevent discomfort in healthy subjects.