Maybe you’re a student that recently finished up finals and are currently basking in the greatness of not having to look at a textbook for 17 days. Or maybe you’re hoping to maintain the productivity of your morning at your desk job without provoking that neck discomfort that really makes your day drag on.
No matter what your vocation is, there are aches and pains that result from prolonged malpositioning of your joints that result after long hours of working on the job or in the classroom that affect how your muscles and connective tissue function.
I have compiled 5 keys that will equip you to take charge of your day and minimize the discomfort that you experience by correcting your body’s anatomical alignment.
1. Equipment Placement
- Monitor Height: Keep that monitor high enough so that your eye level is at the top 1/3 of the monitor (if you have a laptop try placing your laptop on a dresser or surface that will allow you to stand upright) so you don’t have to look up or down at the screen.
- Why? Keeping your monitor at an adequate height encourages upright posture preventing slouching, which can be the source of multiple musculoskeletal problems.
- That’s old news, why else? When you encourage upright posture you promote correct biomechanical alignment that takes the additional pressure off of your supporting muscles and spine that result from sitting “hunched over” at your desk.
- Okay, keep going… Your body is meant to have natural curves called lordosis and kyphosis in 3 segments of your spine: cervical, thoracic, and lumbar. These 3 segments of your spine are designed to move and support in different ways with the ultimate goal of making your muscles work the least amount possible.
- I hear you, but what if I don’t? Physical Therapists end up treating patients that come in with pain resulting from muscles in back and neck that have had to hold the body upright so much that they become injured. Postural issues have also been proven to cause headaches and contribute to increased stress levels.
2. Work Surfaces
- Keyboard Tilt
- When you work multiple hours at a keyboard, make sure to keep the keyboard flat!
- Those tabs are meant to improve visibility of the keys, but unless you need to view the keys during your typing, over time it can result in causing harm to your wrist.
- Why? When your wrists are in prolonged wrist extension (typing with the keyboard tilted) it can result in increased compression of the median nerve that runs through the carpal tunnel of your wrist innervating the palm side of your thumb, index, middle, and inside part of your ring finger.
- What does that mean? If there is prolonged compression of the carpal tunnel and/or extension of the wrist can cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
- If you feel that you have carpal tunnel syndrome (symptoms can include: pain in your wrist, numbness or tingling in the fingers) after a day of computer work, physical therapy could improve your ability to make it through your work day.
- Forearm Support
- Make sure that you have arm rests on your chair that allows your shoulders to be resting while supporting your forearms.
- Why? This will allow you to prevent your shoulder flexors (rotator cuff muscles, long head of the bicep, coracobrachials, anterior deltoid) from having to take on the load of hold your arms up.
- Why does that matter? If the muscles that raise your arm in front you that allow you to type become overworked and injured, it can cause shoulder impingement resulting in further complications that need to be addressed by a physical therapist.
3. Eye Strain
- The 20/20/20 Rule
- Eye strain can result from a number of impairments including: vision problems, poor lighting, screen brightness, postural alignment, and working long hours.
- Every 20 minutes look away 20 feet from your computer for 20 seconds.
- This is a must do if you are currently experiencing eye strain or want to be proactive and prevent it.
4. Easy Reach
- Make sure that the objects that you most regularly use you at your workstation can be assessed without having to bend/twist/reach at extreme lengths.
- There are 3 main forces that act on your spine: compression, distraction, and shearing. When you reach outside of your base of support, you are most likely rotating and side bending to grab that 10 pound binder that doesn’t fit anywhere else. When you combine rotation, lateral flexion, and an external load, a shearing force is produced which creates a vulnerable environment that your spine, muscles, and the discs supporting it are not well equipped to handle it.
- Are we sensing a theme here people?? This is another common overuse injury that physical therapists end up treating very frequently to get people back to work.
5. Get up and Move
- One of the best ways to decrease the risk of injuries that result from prolonged poor posture is to promote frequent breaks.
- How often should you take a break?
- Every 50-60 minutes for 5-10 minutes
- Important components of a break:
- Go for a 5 minute walk: Promotes natural upright posture, increases caloric expenditure, and increases social interaction (for the extroverts out there).
- Back extension: Stand up and reach towards the ceiling or while sitting, use the back rest of your chair to lean back using the back rest as a fulcrum to promote corrective thoracic lordosis (mid back extension).
- Scapular Retraction: Pinch your shoulder blades together and hold for 5 seconds 10 times every time you take a break to help combat poor posture.
Is there any Equipment my employer or I can purchase to improve my health and ergonomic setup?
- Here are 3 items that can help improve your work health!
Using these tips you will be able to make your days more productive and decrease your risk of overuse injury. If you have any questions regarding ergonomics, health and wellness, or the products that I recommended feel free to comment below. Thank you for reading!