If this looks familiar to you, brace yourself for a lesson in office ergonomics.
Office ergonomics is the study of the “fit” between an individual and his or her workplace. Common sense usually tells us when something isn’t fitting. We need to adjust. That doesn’t seem to be obvious when it comes to our workstation. We sit, day after day, hour after hour, in front of computer monitors that are too low, chairs that are too high, with equipment that has our limbs all curled up into knots. And if you asked me, “Are you comfortable?” I’d say, “Perfectly,” as I’m on my way to my weekly Physical Therapy appointment for chronic tendonitis.
We’re creatures of habit and we’re too busy to stop and evaluate our environment until there’s a problem.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the single largest classes of injury claims in the office are Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSDs), which account for 29% of all workplace injuries resulting in time away from work. Musculoskeletal Disorders are defined as injuries to muscles, nerves, tendons, etc. Examples include carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow and tendonitis.
Annually, in the United States, musculoskeletal disorders account for nearly 70 million physician office visits and an estimated 130 million total health care encounters*.
So what can we do to stay healthy in this day of endless mobile device usage and our need to stay in constant communication with the world?
- For starters, pay attention to yourself! Are you all twisted? Are your shoulders all hunched up? Ask your co-workers for help. If they see you slouching or sitting like you’re in a Lay-Z-Boy®, tell them to say something. Check out this great how-to guide for office ergonomics by Mayo Clinic.
- Break up your daily routine. Based on a Microsoft study of computer users, we spend approximately 69% of our workday in front of the computer. And, during that time we strike the space bar 669 times per hour. What!? Stand up from time to time. Walk to your co-worker’s office instead of using the intercom. Take the dog for a walk (if you’re lucky to have a pet-friendly workplace like us). Do what you can to move around.
- Stretch throughout the day. Stretching keeps your muscles and tendons in good working order so there’s less potential for injury. Tom Hendrickson, PT, DPT at Sports & More Physical Therapy in Raleigh says, “If you’re in a seated position for extended periods of time, pecs and hip flexors are two important groups of muscles to target.” See examples below.
- Listen to your mother! “Sit up straight.” “Don’t slouch.” “Stand tall.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who heard that growing up. Well, turns out that was some golden advice. WebMD says improving your posture improves breathing, confidence and allows the body to function more efficiently because you’re not “squishing” all of your internal organs.
- It’s never too late. Years worth of Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs) in a stationary work environment can do some damage, but I know for a fact that with targeted exercises specific to your issues, you can begin repairing and rebuilding. Yes, Tom, I did my exercises today!
*National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine (2001)
Special thanks to Dave Walker, of Cartoon Church for the use of his “bad posture” cartoon!
FROM THE WORK WELL
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