Have you had a stiff neck or a back-ache after a day of work? Have you had trouble with your wrist or elbow?
Have you had to take days off work because of these problems? Remember, you might be facing these difficulties because of the way you position yourself while working.
You can’t really work without computers these days. In fact, most of us have to use the computer all day long.
While they make things easier and quicker, they can sometimes tire us out. Prolonged computer use in the long run also poses certain threats. Understanding all this requires knowledge of office ergonomics and implementation of ergonomic solutions.
Ergonomics isn’t a very new field of study. The effects of work and working environments on the body have been a subject of research for long. However, with the increase in the use of computers at the workplace, office ergonomics is emerging as a topic for frequent discourse, and for good reason, too.
Why office ergonomics?
Present-day organizations attach much importance to employee health. Healthy employees are more efficient and productive, and have a better morale. An individual’s well-being and health is highly dependent on the amount and type of work he does. It has been increasingly observed within organizations that employees face musculo-skeletal disorders and most of them can be traced to their work environment and posture. Such disorders are termed as Work-related Musculo-Skeletal Disorders or WMDs and include injuries to soft tissues, namely muscles, tendons and ligaments, nerves and blood vessels, symptoms include discomfort, pain, fatigue, swelling, stiffness, numbness and tingling.
One very important thing to note is that it is not work activities that cause WMDs; it is how we carry out these activities that cause the problem. Whether our job includes lifting objects, filing documents, using the telephone or using the computer, it is the manner in which we perform these activities that decides how likely we are to develop WMDs.
Many of us may have experienced stiffness, discomfort, pain, swellings or numbness while working for long durations. In the long run, one may experience problems such as neck strain, tendinitis of the wrist or shoulder, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, lower-back pain, tennis elbow and a host of other musculo-skeletal problems. The risk for these disorders is further compounded by:
- Awkward positions (e.g. leaning on the desk, or cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder)
- Repetitive work
- Mechanical contact stress (e.g. sharp objects such as the edge of your desk pressing against your wrist for too long or your hip pressing against the hard edge of your chair)
- Force (e.g. the smallest of actions such as stapling, punching or hovering your finger over the mouse tend to overwork the small muscles in your hands.)
- Sustained exertions (e.g. straining your muscles for too long without taking a break.)
The chances of WMDs increase when these risk factors combine. If you are punching the keyboard with more force than required while your wrist is not in a relaxed position and is pressing against the table edge for a long period of time, you are likely to injure the soft tissues of your hand. You could also injure your back if you sit in an uncomfortable position for a long period of time without taking a break.
The good news is, certain changes made to the workstation and your own posture can help you avoid musculo-skeletal disorders. You just need to get your ergonomics right.
While it may be more convenient to sit in a wrong posture, it is important not to do so. A correct posture is one where all our joints are in their natural relaxed position and we do not have to strain any muscle. Here’s a quick guide on how to make sure you have the right posture at the workplace:
- Firstly, use an ergonomic chair. Your chair should be adequately cushioned and have padded arm rests. Position your chair at a comfortable height so that your feet can stay flat on the ground. The backrest of your chair should support the curve of your back and should be positioned upright or slightly backwards.
- Shoulders should be relaxed and your hips should rest parallel to the ground. Keep your knees bent at an angle close to 90 degrees with your feet resting against the floor. If you cannot manoeuvre the height of your chair and your feet are not in a comfortable position, use a footrest in front of the chair./li>
- Your neck should be straight and not straining forward. For this, adjust the monitor to a height where the top of the screen is at your eye level or slightly lower. Our eyes are best suited to view objects that are straight ahead or slightly underneath it. Doing so will avoid the need to bend your neck back and forward.
- Your elbows should be held close to your body at about 90 degrees and relaxed. The wrists, too, should be relaxed and held in a neutral, straight position. For this, your keyboard should be at the same height as your elbows at a distance where you can type comfortably without having to stretch your arms. Do not rest your wrists on a wrist pad or the edge of the surface.
- Keep your mouse at the same height as the keyboard, beside it so that you do not need to go over your keyboard to use it. Rest your index finger gently curved downward, on the mouse button instead of keeping it lifted over it. Also, do not press against the sides of the mouse too hard./li>
- Your monitor should be at a comfortable distance. Our eyes are relaxed while looking far away, which means that the eye muscles need to stretch to look at objects close by. However, keeping the monitor too far away would mean having to lean forward to see text and objects. An ideal distance would be between 18-30 inches (approximately an arm’s length).
- When using the phone, avoid cradling it between the ear and shoulder. This exerts a lot of force on the neck muscles and causes discomfort and pain.
The objects around your computer also should be placed to add to your comfort. Keep things that you use frequently within reach. Things that are used less frequently can be kept farther away, or in a drawer or another organized place. If you read from a sheet of paper while typing, use a document holder and place it adjacent to the monitor at the same height. And in case you have to reach over frequently and turn pages on it, keep it within your “easy reach zone”. When keeping your files and other objects in drawers, keep the more frequently used ones within reach. Also, keep your drawers slightly open so that you do not have to bend to your side and apply too much of force.
Varying your posture is as important as sitting in a correct one. We all know how hard it is to sit in the same posture for a long time. You could try leaning slightly backward while pushing your legs a little forward or you could change your distance from the monitor when you do not have to type. Increasing the font size on the monitor can help retain a neutral posture while sitting farther away.
Needless to say, our postures are also dictated by a host of reasons beyond our workplace. If your cubicle is cramped and if another person has to sit and work beside you for a particular direction, you will have to compromise on your neutral posture. Your posture may also be affected by the lighting of your workplace. If there is a glare on your computer screen coming from a light source behind you, you will have to lean forward or change your position to view the monitor. Ideally, the light source should be at a right angle to the computer. If there isn’t sufficient light, you will have to go closer to read from the document. Moreover, factors such as temperature, too, have a bearing on our postures. High temperature and humidity can cause fatigue and slouched postures. Direct cold air hitting an individual can also lead the individual to cross legs, slouch shoulders and get into other such awkward postures.
In most cases, it is advisable for the management to constantly monitor the workplace and try finding solutions to ergonomic problems that might affect employees.
Breaks, blinks and exercise
The most important aspect of ergonomic work behavior is to keep the body active. Take frequent breaks and switch between neutral postures. Some exercises can also be performed while sitting at your desk. Simple exercises can improve blood circulation and also relax parts of the body that are being continuously stretched. Also, blink frequently to avoid irritation of the eyes.
Remember, sitting and working right are the only ways of avoiding work-related musculo-skeletal disorders. It’s comfortable to get into a wrong posture; it’s also comfortable to over-strain our muscles without realizing it. However, in the long run, all these could lead to problems that will make it hard for us to continue working and will also affect our other daily activities. To prevent that from happening, follow workstation solutions and share them with your colleagues to educate them on proper office ergonomics.
Computer And Desk Stretches
Sitting at a computer for long periods often causes neck and shoulder stiffness and occasionally lower and back pain.Do these stretches every hour or so throughout the day,or whenever you feel stiff.photocopy this and keep in a drawer.Also, be sure get up and walk around the office whenever you think of it.You’ll feel better!.
Disclaimer: The contents are for informational purposes only and it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Wapmed does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned here.