If you are like many people in the workforce, your job requires to be seated at a desk for long periods, staring at a computer monitor all day, or prolonged standing. Unfortunately, this is putting a lot of people at risk of chronic pain, injuries, and musculoskeletal disorders, all of which can have an impact on your long-term health and productivity. So what can we do to change this? Well, an entire industry was born from these activities: ergonomics.
What is ergonomics?
Ergonomics is the science and practice of designing objects and environments so that they properly fit the person using them. Proper ergonomics help to decrease muscle fatigue and discomfort, increase the quality of work and life, and reduce the number and severity of injuries. The word ergonomics comes from the Greek language and roughly translates to “fitting a job to the person.”
How serious is workplace posture and ergonomics?
Despite the fact that office work is one of the safest jobs that you can have, a study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics cites that musculoskeletal disorders and injuries (MSDs) accounted for 31% of workplace injuries in 2015. Several other studies have looked into the correlations between sitting at a desk for a long period of time and chronic back pain. This research has also shown that regardless of how much you exercise, sitting can still put you at serious risk of disease and chronic pain.
In order to prevent chronic health issues and enhance your wellbeing, it is important to implement ergonomic principles and healthy workplace habits to improve your posture – and health – throughout the day.
What kind of injuries can occur due to poor posture?
While it is not possible to completely eliminate your risk for sustaining one of the injuries below, it is important to note that poor posture and improper workspace setup can lead to any of these injuries:
- Back pain caused by injuries to the muscles, joints, or discs
- Carpal tunnel syndrome (median nerve entrapment at the wrist)
- TMJ dysfunction and tension headaches
- Cervical strain and pain (including a new phenomenon called “text neck”)
- Tendonitis (inflammation in tendons)
- Rotator cuff strains and tears
- Trigger finger
What can I do to improve my posture at work?
At AKPT we understand the importance of good posture and ergonomic principles. We use this understanding to train our patients to change positions in order to place the least amount of strain on supporting muscles and ligaments. The balance of muscle strength and flexibility plus restoration of proper movement patterns is the key to long-lasting good posture and ergonomics.
If you sit at a desk all day at work, try to relax your back and sit in the neutral position – you should feel your weight on your ischial tuberosity (sit bones). The spine’s natural alignment is compromised when you slouch and hunch over, which can cause spinal compression, muscle tension, and even nerve pinching. Try these tips to improve your posture while sitting:
- Place your monitor at eye level so that your head does not tilt
- Rest your feet flat on the ground. Try not to cross your ankles or legs
- Bring your shoulders back and keep your back flat against the chair
- Try using a lumbar support tool to help keep your upper back straight and prevent slouching
- Imagine a string attached to your chest and someone lifting it up towards the ceiling to bring your shoulders back.
Keep track of any back or neck pain and monitor your ongoing symptoms such as stiffness, soreness, or aching in your back, neck, and shoulders.
It is crucial to give your body a break once in a while – make sure to get up and walk around, move, stretch, anything to take a regular break from sitting. Research has found that regular movement breaks every 30 minutes can greatly reduce the injury and health risks posed by sitting. If you are having trouble keeping track of your movement breaks, set a reminder on your phone or computer!
Creating an ergonomic workstation
Sometimes movement alone isn’t enough to prevent injury to your musculoskeletal system. It’s also important to set up your workspace in an ergonomic fashion as well. An ergonomic workstation should fit you and your unique body type. There are plenty of ergonomic workplace products that you can use to build the perfect adjustable workstation that is fit for you and keeps you in a neutral position for much of the day. Some things to take into consideration when setting up an ergonomic workstation:
- Encouraging full range of motion
- Placing most used items within arm’s reach
- Allowing adequate leg room and foot placement
- Alleviating hunched posture
Have you been injured at work, at home, or during your favorite sport or leisure activity? Contact us at AKPT to schedule a consult with an experienced physical therapist. We’re ready to help you feel and move better, no matter where life takes you!