Ergonomics is the study of people at work. When an occupational therapist or ergonomist performs a workstation or office assessment they are looking for ways to reduce stress and eliminate the risk of injuries to the body from the overuse of muscles, poor postures, and repetitive tasks. The goal is to design a work environment that fits within the capabilities and limitations of the worker, and since no two people are exactly the same size,one workstation, keyboard, or chair may work well for some and lead to injury in others.
Your headache and fatigue might be related to the height of your computer monitor as much as holiday stress. Do you ever find yourself stiff and sore when you get up from your workstation? If you set yourself down in front of a computer screen for even an hour a day you may be putting yourself at risk for carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and debilitating pain.
The direct medical costs of the most common work related ergonomic related injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome and sprains and strains, is between $28,000-30,000 per injury. The indirect cost of these injuries, including lost productivity and substitute staffing needs, can be much higher. The average time out of work for a typical ergonomic related injury is twelve days.
With Wi-Fi and a laptop computer you may find Belle Epicurean or the local library, or restaurant becoming the home office. It’s easy to find yourself working at a table that is a little too high and in a chair with insufficient back support. Being distracted by deadlines and a hot pumpkin spice latte can lead to overusing the tendons at the wrist and hand and place extra stress in the neck and back. No one wants to be walking down Madison to enjoy the holiday lights while nursing wrist tendonitis from keyboard use.
Prevention of an ergonomic injury is key and an awareness of posture is the first place to start. Thinking about sitting up tall and placing the shoulder blades in your back pocket will help keep you from slouching, leading to extra stress on the vertebrae of your back and pain. Your feet should be flat on the floor when sitting back all the way in the chair to minimize stress on the back. If you can’t adjust your chair to create this posture you may want to add a properly sized chair to your holiday wish list.
Taking breaks from sitting, repetitive tasks, and computer work every thirty to sixty minutes will give muscles and tendons a chance to recover and will ultimately lead to increased productivity. Standing up, reaching your arms overhead and slowly rotating and tilting your head from side-to-side can relieve muscle stress and give a feeling of being refreshed. Bend down toward your toes every time you stand up and you’ll be providing relief to the hard working back muscles.
There are several sit-stand desk options on the market that enable you to move from sitting to standing with the flip of a handle. Changing work positions often throughout the day will lessen the strain on postural muscles. Your goal should be to move from sitting to standing at least once every hour.
Headache, neck pain and stiffness are often related to computer monitor height. The screen should be directly in front of you at arms length away with the top of the monitor no higher than eye level. When looking at the center of the screen the eyes should be gazing slightly downward. If using bifocals, lower the monitor below eye level and turn screen upward, tilting it back 30° to 45°. The monitor should not be in front of a window that could cause screen glare and eye fatigue. Give your eyes a rest periodically by looking at objects in the distance for several seconds.
Ergonomic Mouses and Office Chair Tips:
Having arm support in a chair can prevent shoulder and upper back fatigue and having the keyboard and mouse placed to prevent reaching can minimize straining the muscles of the shoulder and wrist. The keyboard height should be level with the height of your elbow. Every thirty minutes you should take the time to slowly stretch your wrists and hands back and forth like you are waving and knocking on a door. The change in position will keep the blood flowing and tendons loose.
Remember that even if your workstation is set up properly, you can still get an ergonomic injury from being in the same position for too long. Be sure to periodically adjust your monitor, keyboard or chair to stay mobile. If your career involves being at a computer for part of the day you should try to optimize your position and workflow, move often, and get a workstation ergonomic assessment to minimize injury risk.
Written by Aaron Shaw, OTR/L, CHT, CSCS
Founder of MoveMend
Certified Hand Therapist
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
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