Ergonomics - Making your job work with your body, not against it.

Ideal desk work area arrangement

Ideal desk work area arrangement

As anyone who has tried to hold their arm up overhead to change a light bulb will attest to, prolonged static holding of the arm against gravity causes pain in the neck and shoulder. Sadly, many of us hold our arms outstretched for hours a day sitting at our desks typing and mousing. Others sit crouched forward like vultures over their laptops while some perch on the edge of their seat squinting at their monitors while the chair backrest is not in contact with their back.  All these habitual postures will load joints in a non anatomical pattern, over use, shorten and fatigue some muscle groups while loading other muscles in their weak stretched position. Not only does prolonged static positioning overload and fatigue muscles it also is damaging to articulate cartilage. 

Articulate cartilage is like a sponge, it needs loading and unloading to allow it to receive nutrients from the synovial fluid (lubrication) of the joint. Static loading of one area of a joint compresses the cartilage, causes hypoxia (oxygen deprivation)  and eventually, the cartilage becomes deformed and damaged. Frequent position changes, load shifting of weight, repositioning of the limbs are all important in maintaining robust, resilient healthy muscles and joints.

When prolonged stationary work is unavoidable it is important to have a set up that is ergonomically correct for your body. 

Ergonomics is defined as an applied science concerned with designing and arranging an area or task so the people and tools interact efficiently and safely.

From the Physiotherapy perspective this translates into adjusting the workspace to best accommodate the individuals physical dimensions and capabilities to minimize the risk of repetitive strain and overuse injuries while efficiently completing the tasks. 

For computer workers, this may involve adjusting the chair to hug the curves of the spine and support the thighs, adjusting the keyboard and mouse to avoid overuse of the neck, shoulder and forearm muscles, addressing footwear and posture for the standing workstation user.  It is important to adjust the monitor to the height and focal length of the individual and educate the individual on how to make all appropriate adjustments  to seat choices, seat height and the like, themselves. The Physiotherapy role is also to educate the individual on the importance of frequent position changes, mini stretch break routines and overall exercises to address areas of specific concern.

Ideally when seated at your workstation you can reach the keyboard, mouse and anything else you use frequently without reaching the arms away from the body and having to engage the shoulder girdle and neck muscles. If the chair is at the correct height you can type and mouse without extending the wrist and causing forearm pain or curl the wrist and cause carpal tunnel.

To avoid neck strain, the monitor must be at eye level for you and at your focal length. Having an environment that allows you to position yourself correctly in your chair and being mindful to stretch and re position frequently will reduce your risk of muscle skeletal injury. 

We spend our lives aware of risks. We wear a seat belt when we get in a car, or life-jackets when on water. But the small everyday actions that take up much of our lives carry a less obvious risk. One that can take time. Something your employer is duty bound to help you address. Even if the employer is you!

So, next time you look at your desk, your car, your work station, why not take a moment to consider how to re-arrange the job to work with your body and not against it