Prevent Pain through Proper Office Ergonomics
Realistically, we understand ergonomics as the efficiency of workers in their work environment. Ergonomics is officially defined as the applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely.
The idea behind office ergonomics is that the work environment should bend to fit the worker, and not the other way around. Millions of Americans are living proof that when we attempt to force our bodies to adapt to unnatural positions or routines, our bodies fight back. This battle comes in the form of chronic back pain, sore necks, shifted posture, and a general feeling of discomfort throughout the day.
Lack of Ergonomics Leading to Office Injuries
Over 80% of the working population will suffer from lower back pain at least once in their lifetime. While a multitude of occupations could lead to back pain or injury, those who spend most of their work day sitting are at an increased risk of developing ailments.
This statistic is due to the staggering number of individuals who are practicing poor posture, repetitive movements, and awkward work positions daily. Repeatedly placing your body in a work station that has not been adapted to the day’s necessities nor your body’s unique characteristics is not only stressful, but lends to an unpleasant work environment.
Without proper ergonomics in place, workers are overexerting their bodies daily. From having to constantly stretch forward to reach a keyboard to repeatedly shifting in a desk chair attempting to get comfortable. A chunk of the workday is spent simply trying to adapt to the unusual setup. However, a workstation is more than just a nuisance. Workers are experiencing workplace injuries due to the constant exertion on their musculoskeletal system.
A Spike in Musculoskeletal Disorders in Workers
Simply defined, your musculoskeletal system is what gives your body its structure and mobility. Your musculoskeletal system consists of all of your bones and tissues, like your muscles, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, joints, and other connective tissues that keep your organs in place. When something negatively affects your musculoskeletal system, your entire body will suffer the consequences.
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) affect the muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments, and tendons. Workers operating in a variety of industries and occupations can be exposed to risk factors at work, including lifting heavy items, bending, reaching overhead, pushing and pulling heavy load, working in awkward body postures and performing the same or similar tasks repetitively.
Whereas physically demanding jobs are accompanied by an obvious risk of injury, one of the most common culprits of injury is keeping the body in an awkward body posture. This is most frequently experienced by office workers. Repeated exposure to risk factors increases a worker’s risk of developing an MSD. With a recent pressure for workers to perform quicker, more efficiently, and more often, this trend is spiking.
Examples of MSDs include:
- Muscle strains and sprains
- Low back injuries
- Rotator cuff injuries (shoulder pain)
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Warning Signs of Pain Caused by Poor Ergonomics
As with most injuries, your body will attempt to let you know when something is wrong. However, instead of dealing with the problem, most individuals make an effort to alleviate the pain without altering their current surroundings.
Back and neck pain in office workers is likely a warning sign of poor ergonomics and poor posture. This is especially true when the pain is heightened at certain times of the day or week, such as after a long day of sitting in an office chair typing on the computer. For many who are already experiencing pain, they tend to practice what’s called “overprotective posture”. This is the natural tendency to attempt to limit movements that trigger pain, hence limiting mobility and creating an unnatural posture.
The structures of the spine, vertebrae and vertebral discs, were designed to move along with the spine. Limiting their movement or forcing them into a unnatural position over a long period of time ultimately creates more pain and leads into an increased likelihood of spinal injury, such as herniated disc, slipped disc, and pinched nerves.
If you suspect your workstation has poor ergonomics, be alert for warning signs such as:
- Heightened pain while at the workstation
- Pain that begins in the neck and radiates into the upper back, lower back, or extremities
- Pain that goes away after switching positions while standing or sitting
- Back pain that comes and goes for months
- Sudden onset of pain with a new chair, desk, or job
What Can be Done?
Achieving proper workplace ergonomics is a two-part job. In addition to efforts needing to be made on behalf of your employer, there’s also a need for the employee to make a conscious effort towards breaking bad back habits.
Keep Feet on the Floor: If your feet aren’t flat on the floor, chances are you’re putting extra pressure on the rest of your body. If your feet don’t touch the floor at work, place something underneath your desk to act as a stool. This will improve posture and lessen pressure.
Utilize Armrests: Allowing your arms to droop at your sides increases strain on your neck and shoulders. Adjust your armrests to a comfortable position such that they’re ever so slightly lifted. This prevents any weight to be put on them.
Keyboard and Mouse at Comfortable Distance: A leading cause for pain and discomfort is constantly having to move forward to reach something. Place objects you frequently use within reaching distance, such that your elbows remain bent and near body when you use them.
Adjust Your Chair: When your chair is ergonomically correct, you’ll be able to maintain a comfortable position in which your upper arms and lower legs are always vertical, your forearms and thighs are horizontal, and your lower back is always supported by the back of the chair. Bear in mind that your feet should still be flat to the floor when you adjust your height.
Mind Your Posture: Your spine has its own natural curves. When seated, ensure that your ears, shoulders, and hips are in line, with your buttocks at the back of the chair. Refrain from carrying a tense or “over-protected” posture.
Adjust Monitor: To avoid straining your neck, head, and eyesight, adjust your monitor such that the top line of text on the screen is eye level. In this way, your neck remains in a neutral position. Add books under your monitor or inquire about a monitor stand to achieve this height.
Stretch Out: Don’t be afraid to stand and stretch! Your body is not designed to remain at a 90 degree angle for hours on end. Stretch throughout the day to experience the multitude of benefits associated with this simple exercise.
Ditch the Fancy Footwear: We all want to look nice for work. But unsupportive shoes or shoes with a high, thin heel wreak havoc on the lower back. You can remain fashion forward, but remember that your footwear should not impair your spinal health.
Encourage Workplace Discussion
Consider speaking with your Human Resources department about options available to you. Some companies will swap out your desk for a standing desk, in which you have the option to alternate your work station from seated to standing height. In this way, your body isn’t forced to remain at a 90 degree angle all day.
Additionally, inquire about posture friendly props and ergonomic office chairs. For those suffering from an MSD or a pre-existing spinal condition, such as scoliosis or bone spurs, the necessity of a safe and ergonomically efficient workspace is heightened. Speak to your chiropractor about which accessories or office items he recommends, and bring his advice to your workplace. With the aid of a seasoned chiropractor, you and your office can develop a healthy workplace.
Importance of Preventive Care
Work is stressful. Your workstation shouldn’t add to the day’s stressors. However, a body that’s being exposed to any type of stress needs some TLC.
Keeping your body healthy is the most effective way of approaching a stressful work environment. Preventive care lessens the likelihood of injury and strengthens the musculoskeletal system. Approach your transition into an ergonomic environment pain free. If you’re looking to transition into a safer, more ergonomic work environment, give the doctors at ChiroCare of Florida a call today.