What you Need to Know about Workstation Ergonomics
Work should never cause you pain! Whether you are at a desk all day, or working from home on your couch, discomfort should not be part of your 9-5. Most of the time, small changes are all we need to stop discomfort, prevent injuries, and even avoid surgery.
What is Ergonomics?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines Ergonomics as “fitting the job to the person”. Ergonomics helps prevent workplace injuries, lessen muscle fatigue, and increase productivity. Why is ergonomics important? Unfortunately, the work many of us do daily may put us at risk of developing work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSD). Examples of MSDs are:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Trigger Finger
- Muscle strains
- Nerve entrapment
The good news is that there are programs and laws in place that help prevent workers from suffering injuries and MSDs. It’s the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe work environment for their workers and offer education and techniques to reduce the risk of MSDs. In addition, there are some things you can do as well to reduce your risk. MSDs, in most cases, are completely preventable, and when caught early, they respond very well to treatment and do not leave any long-term effects. Below, we will discuss some ways MSDs can be prevented, what to do if you feel you may be developing an MSD, and how Ivy Rehab can help you.
Aim for 90!
If your workstation is a desk, the best thing to do for yourself is to remember “Aim for 90!”. This means elbows, hips, and knees should all be at a 90° angle. Your back should comfortably rest against the back of your chair with a slight recline, preferably with low back or “lumbar” support. You should not have to reach up to type, and your feet should be placed completely on the floor. When sitting in your chair, your elbows and forearms should rest on the armrests without reaching or hunching your shoulders.
Your computer monitor placement is also very important. To prevent eye and neck strain, your monitor should be directly in front of you; no need to look up or down to see your whole screen. Have multiple monitors? No problem! You will know they are in the right place if you don’t have to move your head or neck too much to see all screens. The text size you use on your computer could also impact your ability to be productive, as a font that’s too small could cause eye strain, leading to headaches.
And don’t forget about those wrists and hands! Wrists should be in a neutral position, meaning a straight line, with no excessive bending when typing or using your mouse. Many companies even offer their employees the chance to use a headset rather than using a wired handset. Headsets remote the need to excessively bend the elbow for long periods of time, which could lead to nerve compression at the elbow. If you have ever been holding a handset while on the phone for a long time and your pinky and ring finger go numb, that could be an early sign of nerve compression.
If any of these problems sound familiar, there are easy steps you can take to make your workstation a more comfortable one. Computer monitor too low? Add a book or two underneath to raise it to the appropriate height. Desk too low that you’re slouching or hitting your knees? Inexpensive desk raisers quickly and easily solve that problem. But what happens when, even after adding those things, you continue to experience problems?
What should I look out for?
A very common question that people ask is: “Is it too late if I already feel discomfort?” The short answer is no. The good thing is that our bodies are quick to tell us when something isn’t right. Sudden onset numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness, is our body’s way of telling us to get up and move. A great exercise for neck and eye strain doesn’t even involve you getting out of your chair. Just remember “30/30/30”. Every 30 minutes, look at something 30 feet away for 30 seconds. This will allow your eyes to relax and give your neck a chance to change positions, which decreases pressure on muscles. If you can’t seem to remember to stop what you’re doing every 30 minutes, simply set a timer on your cell phone or watch. If you have the opportunity, standing up, walking to the water cooler, or even taking a quick bathroom break is sometimes all you need to give those joints a break.
What can I do while I’m at work?
Anytime an injury occurs at work, even the smallest ones, it should be reported to your direct supervisor immediately. They will direct you on what your next steps should be based on their specific procedure and when to seek medical attention. But what happens if you’re sitting at your desk typing and your hands go numb? Generally, people will stop what they’re doing, shake their hands out, and keep typing away. But what about when it happens again? How many times should you shake your hands out before you tell someone? The good news is that there are many inexpensive (and even some free) options that can reduce your discomfort, which shouldn’t disrupt your ability to work.
If you don’t have the opportunity in your day to get up and walk whenever you feel discomfort, YouTube is a great resource for stretches you can perform while still sitting at your desk. You can even choose a video based on how much time you have available. There are videos to cater to any lifestyle and timeframe. You can even get a group together during your lunch to participate in a chair yoga class. Simply grab some chairs, pick a video, and start stretching.
Many companies now offer ergonomic desks to their employees that allow you the chance to stand and work while still maintaining your productivity. There are several options: a complete standing desk, which has a component that you lift to your height to perform your job, or just the lifting component, which can go right on top of your current workstation. Ergonomic mousepads and keyboards are also an option. They allow your wrists and hands to be in a neutral position, thereby decreasing the pressure within the wrist, which could eventually lead to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. An ergonomic mouse is a larger, more built-up option. This prevents excessive gripping of smaller objects, which could lead to tendonitis of the wrist and hand. Even pens and pencils can be built up to prevent pain and discomfort.
We Can Help
Ergonomics are a fundamental and essential part of any workstation for employees and employers to ensure what they are providing is safe and conducive to their employees’ well-being. Ergonomic specialists at Ivy Rehab can provide insight into how your workstation should be adjusted, most of the time by simply bringing your therapist a photograph of your setup. Many times, it’s simply a matter of introducing one of the interventions described above. Our goal is to treat the whole person; not just the injured part of the body you come to us with. Click here to find a location near you.
Article By: Lisa Pinkston, MSOT, OTR/L
Lisa began her Occupational Therapy career over 10 years ago after receiving her Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy from Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT. Lisa loves working with the orthopedic population and believes in the importance of providing individualized patient care. She currently specializes in treatment in the Upper Extremity and is preparing to become a Certified Hand Therapy. Lisa enjoys working with all patients and caregivers to reach their goals. She currently treats patients at Ivy Rehab in Fair Lawn, NJ.
The medical information contained herein is provided as an information resource only, and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultation with healthcare professionals. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-provider relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition. If you think you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. IvyRehab Network, Inc. disclaims any and all responsibility, and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury or liability whatsoever suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained herein.