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Stuck in their highchairs, hard-working tennis umpires endure long matches and top the ‘Back Injury Risk’ league, warns UK back-pain expert Nichola Adams, MSc Ergonomics, Tech CIEHF, ACPOHE Reg Member

Whether you’re sat on Centre Court or watching from home, we all love Wimbledon. But spare a thought for the umpires, they’re the ones I pity.

Umpires often have to sit for up to four hours at a stretch in their workstation, perched on uncomfortable chairs, supervising long matches. It’s a tough call.

Tennis players sit down during rest breaks and are allowed between 90 seconds and two minutes’ rest at changeovers. Then they get to stretch their legs running around the court.

Line judges swap ends, have to wave their arms around, bend down, stand up, crouch, keep moving – all excellent for stretching, keeping the body moving and circulation.

Ball boys and girls do a lot of crouching and kneeling, but they also get plenty of exercise, racing around the court and bending to scoop up balls at the net.

And spectators at the match who want to stretch their legs and backs can also do so at any time, en route to a box of strawberries and cream! 

But in terms of back injury risk, poor umpires draw the short straw. On top of which, have you seen those umpire seats?! Not a cushion in sight. Are there secret cushions somewhere perhaps?

Umpires constantly have to twist their head from side to side as they watch the ball. At least they can also take the break at the end of each set, which is similar to the ergonomic guideline of at least every 30-60 minutes. I’d say Wimbledon umpires need less tie-breaks and more rest-breaks.

During my 13 years supporting and advising British companies and individuals nationwide on back-pain issues and how to prevent injury, it has been my honour to help around 5,000 clients across the UK.

I always advise them that variety is the key. You should take frequent rest-breaks, (from sitting and standing) and also engage in regular stretching. If you are sitting down in a more comfortable chair watching the game, especially if it is four hours long, just make sure you afford yourself the luxury of supporting your lower back curve so you aren’t slouched down on your office chair or sofa. And stand up every now and again.

Can too much exercise tip the balance? Well, I’m so glad Andy Murray’s hip surgery was a success, giving hope to us all, but I was sorry to hear he was still suffering with a little lower-back pain after a recent doubles match.

Perhaps this is the tail end of the recovery process as his body readapts during the rehabilitation process, or could it just be down to the fact that he'd played 12 matches in 11 days!?

As an ergonomist, I wonder what chairs he’s been sitting on during his recovery. I gather he's a big fan of computer games. If you’re reading this, Andy, I’d advise you don’t spend too long slouched over your laptop.

Out of all those people at Wimbledon 2019, when it comes to being vulnerable to the risk of a back injury, unfortunately, it’s Game, Set and Match to the umpires.

·If you or your business might benefit from expert advice on preventing back injury in the workplace, visit www.inspiredergonomics.com or you can email me on info@inspiredergonomics.com

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