If you spend a lot of your working day sat at a desk you probably should have an ergonomic office chair at the very least, and ideally an ergonomic desk as well. You can easily suffer undue back pain at work in a chair if your chair doesn’t support your back and posture. Upper back pain from sitting in the wrong posture is all too common – and easily resolved.
Is the desk at which you spend eight hours a day so high or wide that you have to strain to reach objects at its far edge? Does your telephone feel like a permanent connection linking your shoulder to your ear? Is the dimness of your computer display keeping your face so close to the monitor that your neck is permanently crooked? All of these are bad for your back posture, which can lead to back pain. Even if everything is setup correctly, you can still suffer lower back pain from sitting too much – so make sure you get plenty of breaks where you get up and walk about.
Workstation ergonomics takes all these factors into account.
People in this country tend to think of ergonomics as body posture and position, maybe movement, but not in terms of the total environment,
says Ira L.Janowitz, P.T., C.P.E., of the University of California Ergonomics Program. “That is just a small part of it,” says Janowitz, who defines the science as the study of the relationship of people to their work and work environment.
Ventilation, office stress, the carpet beneath your swivel chair – anything that affects the relationship between you and your work can concern an ergonomist. . . and your back.
An ergonomist would consider whether the lighting is too dim to allow for safety or whether deadline pressure keeps you from taking occasional breaks.
In “Tips for Healthy Computer Use,” on the University of California Ergonomics Program Web site, director David M. Rempel, M.D., emphasizes three points that can be applied to computer work or any kind of desk work: Position your equipment properly, relax your shoulders and hands while working, and vary your workday.
“Think about adjusting everything to find your most effective body postures for your most common tasks,” writes Dr. Rempel. “In general, you should adjust your chair first, your keyboard and mouse second, and your monitor and print material third.”
Whether your day is spent on the computer, the telephone, or over hard copy, several desk strategies can reduce the possibility of injury to or strain of your back.
Sit right. Follow the strategies from your employers health and safety tips.
Keep tools close. Arrange your work area so that frequently used items are within easy reach.
Consider a headset. If you spend significant amounts of time on the telephone – especially while you are typing – use a headset. Do not keep the receiver clamped to your shoulder by means of your ear.
Look with your eyes, not your neck. Place whatever you look at most (either the computer screen or paperwork) directly in front of you to eliminate the need to turn your head to the side while you type. A variety of document holders on the market can hold papers at eye level.
Arrange your computer components and workstation ergonomics. Place the keyboard and mouse next to each other, in front of and close to you, and low enough so that you don’t need to elevate your shoulders when you use them. Set up your monitor so that the top of the screen is at or slightly below eye level.
Type appropriately. In general, keep your elbows at your sides and forearms parallel to the floor, resting on forearm supports, or with your upper arms hanging comfortably at your sides. But not everyone does the same sort of typing: Some, such as transcribers, who type steadily, are best served by the “floating hand” technique, with hands “floating” above the keyboard, wrists straight, shoulders relaxed, and torso in an upright or forward sitting posture. Others, such as those accessing a database or thinking out a memo, use the keyboard in small bursts, with frequent pauses. For them, forearm support is useful.
Soothe office stress. No matter how well your work area is arranged, stressful office conditions – and that includes eye strain as well as your boss’s temper – can cause muscles to tense. Try to become aware of the signs of stress, do what you can to remedy the causes, and put relaxation strategies to use.
See this article for lifting techniques to prevent back pain