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Life Works

with Tevis Rose Trower

This blog has been retired.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Work Injuries: How Ergonomics Can Help

Are you breaking your back to get the job done?

Recently we hosted a Blackberry Bionics event at a major financial services company in NYC. In 3 hours, more than 360 employees made their way to the station, learning how to take care of hands, wrists, elbows and necks from massage therapists. We were amazed that 1 in 3 employees were already at a point of needing doctor referrals because their conditions were so pronounced.

Consider that the furniture you rely upon when you work is much harder and less yielding than the soft tissues of the human body. As a result, when you’re interacting with these hard surfaces in the course of getting the job done every day, if something is going to give way, chances are it’s going to be your body. Imagine phone call after hunched-shoulder phone call, concentrated moments typing slumped over, one little key stroke after another – over time your body is a semblance of its former self. And it’s not just working professionals. I remember going to the high school graduation of a friend a few years ago and reeling with shock watching curved-over young people saunter across the stage like a digression in the evolutionary chart.

Our massage partner, Licensed Massage Therapist Donna DeFalco, CEO of Health Enhancement Company, noted that because humans are so driven to compensate and do what it takes to “get the job done,” it rarely occurs to us to pay attention to our bodies. This is an age-old problem, far from flash-in-the-pan hype.

“Although ergonomics is a science based on the body’s natural alignment, the problems we experience are driven by habits developed over many years. Most of our misalignment is so unconscious, we are shocked when a professional shows us what it feels like to put our bodies in proper position,” she says.

Her advice: “Ask a friend to take a picture of you sitting at your desk, preferably at a moment when you are unaware.” Like they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. She says to look for specific alignment issues:

  • Are you leaning forward as if the weight of the world on your back?
  • Is your arm reaching for the mouse that looks as if it is running off your desk to get some cheese?
  • Are your chair arms dictating how close you can get to your desk?”

Here are some tips to avoid musculoskeletal injuries:

  1. Use a headset or speakerphone to reduce neck tension. Don’t crunch your neck.
  2. The top of your computer screen should be slightly below eye level, with your chin center. This position keeps you sitting straight and reduces tension in the mid-back between the shoulder blades.
  3. Avoid wrist discomfort by making sure you have a gel cushion reducing force on the edge of the desk. Make sure the height of your wrist is equal to the “home row” height of the keyboard.
  4. Avoid awkward postures. Make sure your monitor is directly in front of you, i.e. 18-23 inches and not in the corner of your desk which also helps reduce stress on the lower back and neck.
  5. Follow the 90 degree rule. Avoid reaching more than 90 degrees (think “right angle”). Stay close to your workstation and make sure your elbows are close to the body, reducing upper back strain.

If you need further inspiration, look at a baby’s natural posture and how erect they sit and how relaxed their spines are. Then contrast it with a computer game fanatic’s posture – again, a picture is worth a thousand words!

Be well,

Tevis

Comment on this post, share your experience with workplace pain, and ask questions on the Pain Management Exchange.

Posted by: Tevis Rose Trower at 1:00 pm

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