Ergonomics is the study of your workplace in every day and in the work environment. When properly set, proper Ergonomics prevents soft tissue injuries and musculoskeletal disorders like lower back pain, headache, sciatica, pain between shoulder blades and many more commonly seen conditions among desk workers. In order to better provide desk workers which are most of us, with more suitable workstations, ergonomic consultants can perform ergonomic assessments or evaluations to create a better work environment and ensure proper ergonomic posture.
Why is Ergonomics Important?
Damage to the musculoskeletal system occurs in workplace environments because of conditions such as repetitive motions, vibrations, lifting heavy weights, sitting or standing in awkward positions for long periods of time, using keyboard and mouse continuously, staring at a desktop all day and now a days, more than ever before, having multiple screens to look at. Carpal tunnel syndrome with pain in the wrist and hands, the upper cross syndrome with a slouched posture due to weakened muscles in the upper back and neck, or lower back muscle tension and strain from repetitive work (including sitting for a long time) are commonly seen across most occupations. According to the United States Department of Labor in 2013, occupational hazard injuries such as musculoskeletal disorders accounted for 33% of all work-related injuries and illnesses reported. Thankfully there are more and more companies with Health and Wellness coordinators that provide informative training and evaluations to the employees to prevent injuries.
What Can I Do to Have a Better Ergonomics?
Take micro breaks!
You set the timer to get up and go drink some water, fill up your water bottle and go to the bathroom. This allows more walking than you would have had otherwise.
Use a standing/sitting desk
Sit with your hands, wrists, and forearms straight and parallel to the floor; your head is straight and the middle of the monitor slightly above your eye level. If your desktop is too low, use a book, box or a stand to lift it to the proper height.
When standing up at a standing/sitting desk, make sure that you stand straight with your arms and wrists at a neutral position.
Before sitting down, I use the ‘praise the sun’ exercise which activates the middle portion of the brain which is in charge of giving the command to hold the upright posture. This is incorporating Brain based neurology activation move into the daily routine which is what I recommend to all of my patients.
Use no chairs if you are allowed
That is correct. I don’t sit on a chair at my desk and use an exercise ball instead. Make sure to run it by your HR and follow your employer’s rules. Many think sitting on an exercise ball strengthens the core muscles but it actually activates the midbrain (PMRF) which in turn sends the command to the body to be upright against gravity. This clearly improves the collapsed posture which is what the daily desk work dictates. The alternative to the exercise ball is the air cushion which is what my team uses on top of their chair. Here is what it looks like!
Put your desk accessories away from you
That means you will have to get up and go to the printer, or stapler or the phone. The variety in positions allows you to not have repetition in the movement which does quite a bit of damage to your muscles, joints, tendons and whole body.
Do self evaluation of your work environment
I always recommend my patients to do their own evaluation of their desk environment. This simple form gives a step by step process to make the necessary corrections at your own workplace. You can email me your picture at the end for evaluation if not sure if you are set correctly or not.
What Can I do if I have a Work-Related Injury?
If you got injured on the job, you should report the injury immediately to a supervisor. It is important to try to report the injury in writing and seek professional medical help as soon as possible.
I am yet to see a patient at my office with a perfect work environment, therefore, self-evaluation of the workplace is a required step to assure all causes are addressed. Since most conditions caused by desk work is related to the soft tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves), addressing those areas is the key to getting rid of the pain. Headaches, lower back pain, pain down the leg, sciatica, piriformis syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome, wry neck, pain between shoulder blades, shoulder pain, knee pain, and pain down the arm are common conditions related to an unhealthy work environment. The general approach in care includes the following:
- Brain-Based Neurology and Posture is the mapping of the brain with regards to posture. The goal of this treatment is to activate and exercise the areas of the brain that are responsible for the weakened muscles. If the command center does not send the command, then the body parts simply do not perform the task. Since deskwork overuses certain body parts and under uses others, the underutilized parts become weak and the part of the brain in charge of posture and movement of THOSE body parts start shrinking. The only way to regain the shrunken part is by strategically activating that part of the brain. Here is a video of a patient who underwent this type of brain activation to improve her posture and getting rid of her pain.
- DNS or also known as Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization is one of the treatments that I use often in my practice. If you have not checked out my YouTube channel, you should do so and view the video series on pelvic floor exercises which utilizes DNS exclusively.
- Chiropractic Care: This video sums it all up
- Massage Therapy can tremendously help get rid of trigger points or knots that are found in the muscles and that can cause localized pain in the area or even cause the pain to travel down a specific pattern in the body. At my clinic, the massage therapists are up to par with the patient’s conditions, limitations and health goals and the right style of massage to increase movement within the joint and area are used. The patient’s record is updated with their findings and incorporated in the patient’s treatment.
- Active Release Technique or ART involves the movement of the immediate specific joint, in the direction that causes pain. During this movement, the order in which specific muscles come to play their role is evaluated and the knots present in the muscles are dissolved not by applying more pressure over the knots but by contracting the fibers of the muscles through movement.
- Cold Laser Therapy, also known as Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) is an effective treatment at reducing acute pain due to injury by stimulating healing in the targeted area. Cold Laser Therapy does so by utilizing specific wavelengths of light that can interact with the injured tissue. The outcome is increased tissue healing and decreased pain levels.
Sitting behind your desk, doing the same task over and over and repetition in the movement are not how the body was designed to have. Movement is the key to health and therefore adding a variety of tasks and activities to your daily routine is important. Remember, you are the Designer and the Director of your own life so design and direct it the way you wish to live it.