Written by Chiropracticon December 2, 2011 in
Many Americans spend over 40 hours a week in the office sitting at work. Most of the time, they are using a computer, either a laptop or a desktop, both at work and at home. Many people soon develop pain conditions in the neck, back, and extremities, resulting in chronic health issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome, poor posture, and numbness in the limbs. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services promotes and encourages greater ergonomic conditions in the workplace. Employee health, satisfaction, and productivity are all directly related to workplace ergonomics. Proper workplace ergonomics are essential in decreasing work-related stress as well as preventing musculoskeletal strain and injuries.
When thinking about the effects of good workplace ergonomics, there are a few principles that are especially important to consider. First and foremost, you must switch your posture when you’re doing a work task for a long period of time. When you stay in the same position for an extended period, blood does not circulate properly through your body. This can cause muscle fatigue and make you more susceptible to injuries. Secondly, find a neutral position that minimizes strain upon your joints, back, and neck. Avoid positions in which your joints are extended to their maximum ranges. Finally, remember to use your largest muscles when lifting anything, whether heavy or not. By using your largest muscle group, you minimize the strain upon your smaller, weaker muscles.
If you are working in a cubicle or an office, there are a few pointers that are especially useful to you. Many people tend to hunch over or slouch in their chairs, experience neck pains from staring at a computer monitor, or feel numbness in the low-back. Some other common conditions are wrist or elbow pain, frequent headaches, and weakness in the legs. There are certain things you can do to reduce the frequency of these ailments, or to completely prevent them from occurring.
For starters, you can get up from your desk every so often to walk around. Take short breaks from your work to do some stretching. Certain exercises are especially helpful for those who are constantly on the phone. These include shoulder shrugs and neck rotations. Also, if you’re planning to be on the phone for a long phone call, using a headset can help. Those who are constantly looking at the computer screen put a lot of strain on the eyes. If you’re lucky enough to have a window by your desk, look out at far away objects. This will allow your eyes to focus on something outside and help them to relax.
The way your work area is set up can affect your posture. Your desk should be at the right height so that it is comfortable to you to reach everything on it. In the seated position, your body and your legs should form an angle of 90 to 110 degrees and your feet should be touching the floor. Also, make sure that your chair has a supportive back and a cushioned seat. Since you will be sitting all day, the seat needs to be cushioned for comfort and to prevent low-back pain. It’s a good idea to add an extra cushion if the seat gets uncomfortable. To avoid slouching or hunching over in your seat, lean against the back of your chair.
Make sure your head and neck are well-aligned while you are working. Set your computer monitor so that the top of it is level with your eyes. Maintain a neutral, aligned position with your head, neck, and back. Do not lean forward toward the screen. If you are simultaneously reading from printed materials, use a bookstand to minimize the strain upon your eyes when switching back and forth.
There are also tips for improving workplace ergonomics for those who specifically use a computer all day. Laptop users shouldn’t use the touchpad on the actual machine and plug in an external mouse instead. The proper way to use a mouse is to move your entire shoulder and arm, not merely your wrist. Allow your forearm ample space to rest. Do not let your elbow dangle off the edge of your desk. Stretch your fingers, wrists, and arms frequently. Take periodic breaks away from the computer.
If your work requires you to lift heavy objects, you must be aware of proper muscle usage and body positioning. Do not bend forward to pick up heavy objects — always keep your back straight and left with your legs. By bending forward, you can very easily hurt the muscles in your lower back. Keep in mind that you must hold the objects close to the body and keep your body as upright as possible. Look up and forward as you lift, and keep the elbows flexed. Always get help if something is too heavy for you to carry by yourself.
The more attention you give to your workplace ergonomics, the better your chiropractic health will be. Taking the initiative now to improve your work conditions will be one of the greatest investments in yourself, your health, and your future.