Last updated on April 8th, 2022 at 07:55 pm
Every occupation presents unique physical challenges to the human body. Jobs that require sitting at a desk or computer are no exception. Today, nearly 70 percent of the job force now sits on the job.
Absenteeism due to back and neck pain is a leading cause of lost productivity. For companies of all sizes, well-designed and comfortable work stations are becoming more important than ever to improve employee satisfaction, minimize risk and maximize revenue.
Ergonomic specialists can perform formal assessments of work areas and make recommendations. Some companies have yielded significant results with this small investment. A number of fairly simple changes to the desk and computer set-up can reduce health issues associated with repetitive stress and posture. It is important to apply the same principles to a computer at home, as well. Many people underestimate the time they spend parked in front of their home computers surfing the net, shopping on line, answering e-mail and playing “just one more round” of their favorite game.
Begin your self-assessment by targeting the tasks performed most frequently. Whether it’s talking on the phone, making appointments, entering data, filing, using a mouse or collating materials, remember that even small changes can significantly reduce the stresses which contribute to neck, back and joint pain.
Cumulative micro-trauma to the tissues and joints can cause pain from inflammation, muscle tension and even spasm in the overworked areas. Researchers at Marquette University’s Physical Therapy program have studied computer use and found that the number of strokes performed on the keyboard of a typical office worker totals hundreds of thousands. Imagine the potential impact of modest changes in keyboard placement or design, joint alignment or force of a key stroke!
Tips for decreasing cumulative trauma
• A well-designed office chair is your best friend. Adjustable seat height and lumbar support are the most important features. The seat should fit the length of your thighs and have a curved front edge. Optimal sitting posture includes feet flat (use a foot rest if feet do not reach the floor), knees at a 90 degree angle, spine resting against the back of the chair with a lumbar roll supporting the low back (see diagram). A five-pronged, wheeled base on your chair provides the best stability and mobility.
• Avoid twisting your spine when possible – turn your chair instead.
• If repetitive writing is part of your job, use a built-up pen or a pen with a rubber grip. You may also want to build up the handle of the letter-opener if that is a high volume task.
• When using hole punch, switch between right and left hands and use a palm protector pad.
• If you choose to use a wrist splint, make sure it fits properly. It should not interfere with thumb or knuckle movement, should not dig into the palm or be too tight on the arm.
• Place keyboard at a height which allows the arms to relax by your side, elbows at a 90 degree angle and wrists slightly lifted in the neutral position. Reasonably priced kits are available to install an adjustable pull-out keyboard tray. If you use a mouse, the mouse extension should be at the same height as the key board.
• Do not fully drop wrists down to rest on the edge of the work surface. Resting some of the weight of the arms on a wrist rest at a keyboard can reduce static postural muscle work at the neck by 30 percent.
• Keep the most frequently used objects close at hand to avoid over-reaching (i.e.; phone, forms or note pads, appointment book, etc.) Muscles work most efficiently in mid-range.
• In a job with heavy telephone use, a headset is a must. It will allow both hands to be free and help avoid harmful neck postures. Headsets are now more affordable, easily available and well designed. Place your phone within reach of your non-dominant hand.
• The top of the computer terminal should be at eye level. A good computer eyeglasses similar to this blue light glasses uk may be helpful in reducing eye strain and/or positioning the head and neck in the optimal position (especially if you are over 40 and wear bifocals).
• Use a document holder at eye level – this helps keep head in a neutral position and reduces eye fatigue.
• Follow the 50-10 rule. For every 50 minutes you work sitting at your desk, take a 10-minute break. During your break, walk around, stretch out your muscles, interrupt your typical posture. This can still be productive time if you choose to perform other tasks. But even if you just stretch, walk and get a drink, you are likely to be more productive overall if you take this break time.
• Avoid drafts and keep air temperature controlled – low temperature decreases circulation and can cause stiffness in soft tissues.
Perform the office stretches described below standing as straight as possible, twice a day. There should be no pain, numbness or tingling while doing them. If this occurs, seek medical evaluation.
Cervical flexion – Bend your head forward, chin toward your chest. Gently provide overpressure to the back of your head with fingertips. Hold for 30 seconds.
Cervical retraction – Draw your chin down slightly, then backward, like a turtle pulling its head back into its shell. Hold five seconds and repeat five times.
Cervical side bending – Tip your right ear toward your right shoulder and provide gentle overpressure to the left side of your head with your right hand. Reach for the floor with your left hand and hold 30 seconds. Repeat to the left side.
Cervical rotation – Place your right hand on the back of your head. Turn your head to the left, as if trying to look over your left shoulder. Provide gentle overpressure to the left side of your head with your right hand. Hold 30 seconds and repeat to the right.
Shoulder circles – Rotate the shoulders in a circular direction forward 5-10 times, then backward 5-10 times.
Lumbar extension – Stand and place your hands at the small of your back. Lean back for a few seconds to relieve pressure on your low back. Repeat 5-10 times.
These strategies should help address a number of the most common complaints found with sitting on the job. They do not replace the need for a regular cardiovascular exercise routine, which provides other well-documented health benefits. People with sedentary occupations especially need to stay active when not on the job. Take responsibility for your own health. Seek intervention sooner, rather than later, if you find it difficult to manage work stresses using the suggestions and exercises described above. Your body will thank you for it.