Does your workspace support you?
Whether you work from home or an office, travel by car or plane, supporting your body with good habits and the proper equipment is critical to staying flexible and pain free.
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What are the effects of poor ergonomics?
Poor workspace design and habits will eventually lead to body aches and pains. Usually most immediately in the hips, low back, neck and/or shoulders. As that posture is continually reinforced with improper ergonomics, you will likely assume that posture outside of your workspace. Your core weakens and certain parts of your body such as your back and legs become less flexible, shoulders round and your chest caves in.
People often train for things like races, tournaments or team sports yet neglect to train for what they do most of the time, and that is sit at a desk or the wheel of a car. By modifying habits and making sure the equipment around you is actually doing you a favor, you can avoid or reduce many of the most common occupational hazards. If you are already experiencing pain you may also want to seek help in restoring flexibility to your body.
Self-Care for the Workplace
Here are some great tips for avoiding workspace problems that impact your body over time (AKA workplace injury, cumulative strain injury or repetitive stress injury):
- Current car seat designs lead to poor posture by automatically tilting our hips into a certain position that puts a lot of stress on our low backs. Getting proper supports for your car seat can reduce hip stress.
- Long hours with one leg extended to press on a pedal, can strain your knee and cause hip pain. Use cruise control and pull your seat closer to the pedal so that your leg is comfortably bent and your heel is resting on the ground.
- Sitting in a chair
- The wrong size of chair can cause strain in the knees if too high, hips if too low, low back if not supported correctly.
- Without wheels or a swivel puts undue strain on one side of your low back and the corresponding hip and knee, opposite the side you always get out of the chair or slide it over.
- Without an office chair mat that allows the wheels to glide easily causes strain behind both knees when you scooch up to your desk.
- Arms on a chair at a desk will cause stress in your wrists, neck, shoulders and low back if you do not have a keyboard that attaches under your desk because you cannot get close enough to the desk to put your body in a neutral position before you work.
- Too high causes shoulder and neck tension which can contribute to tension headaches and wrist pain.
- Too low causes wrist strain, mid back, low back and jaw pain
- Keyboards and Mice
- A good keyboard and mouse do make a difference on wrist and finger strain. If you use them all the time getting an adjustable arm mounted under your desk is best. More often the problem is with desk height and arms on chairs.
- Have 2-3 mice that you switch out monthly. Make sure you have to use them differently – track ball vs. true mouse, click with middle vs. index finger. If you use the mouse a lot, the best thing you can do is change what part of your wrist or fingers gets the demand on a frequent basis.
- Lighting and Vision
- A desk light in front of the monitor and a back light behind your monitor decreases eyestrain which can reduce neck, upper back and shoulder tension.
- Warm and well lighted spaces allows better posture as your body will crouch and slump if you are using too much of your energy to see.
- Make sure your eyes are looking at the upper third of your monitor.
- If you have them, use your reading glasses while working on the computer to avoid neck strain.
Typical habits that cause or relieve stress on your body at work:
- Sitting for a prolonged period of time can result in a weak core and pelvic floor as well as weak abs and back causing poor posture and slumping.
- Breaks – we are creatures of change. Our body and minds need changing inputs. Getting up and walking around, seeing different people, entering different lighting, hydrating and getting some fuel every couple hours keeps us fresh and dynamic and reduces our risk for repetitive motion injuries. There are applications you can download on your phone to provide a reminder
- You may find yourself favoring which leg you cross over the other putting more stress on one hip and ultimately leading to an imbalanced tension pattern causing pain in your body. Switch legs.
- Younger generations tend to be bent over small screens on phones and tablets. You may have heard the term ‘text head’ as more of us, often adolescents, retain this forward head posture even when we’re not staring at a screen.
- Sit on a chair that encourages you to sit on your ‘sit bones’ with feet flat on the ground or work at a standing desk
- Practice some stretches or exercises throughout your day, side bending, reaching your arms behind you and twisting (if appropriate) are beneficial
Professional Treatment for Workplace Injury
Chiropractic can address uneven biomechanics as well as musckuloskeletal and nerve pain patterns throughout the body. Most chiropractors can also do an ergonomic assessment of working conditions.
Massage Therapy by a qualified therapist can help to loosen the areas in your body that may become stiff so that you can move more freely.
Movement Therapy by someone who understands posture and balancing muscles with core strength and flexibility can provide you with exercises that can be done at home or in the office to offset the effects of your workspace.
Ergonomic Specialists can also come to your workspace and make suggestions for equipment that supports your activities and body mechanics.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
National institute of health: