Have you ever experienced some sort of pain or discomfort from your office desk? It could be back pain or wrist discomfort. But here’s the thing: all too often I come across people who think that their aches and pains are just part of working. The truth is that these injuries are totally preventable. Often just with some simple awareness, advice, and strategies office injuries can be avoided in the first place. Check out our 4 ways to ensure that you work safely at work!
4 Ways To Prevent Office Injury That You Can Do Today!
1. Know The Symptoms Of Ergonomic Risk.
Ergonomic injuries don’t come out of nowhere. Most of the time there are known and gradual steps that lead up to an injury occurring. There are signs and symptoms that if you are aware of can be used to your advantage as a hint that there is something in your workstation that should probably be changed. These are:
- Redness or swelling on the affected joint
- The skin around the area is warm to touch
- Reduced range of motion for the affected joint
- Pain (soreness, burning, or aching)
- Tender to touch
- Tingling, numbness, weakness, change of skin colour
On top of this there are different types of symptoms based on where you are in your ‘injury’ progression. These are typically labelled as early, intermediate, and advanced stages of musculoskeletal development. In the early phases of musculoskeletal injury development the muscles can feel slightly irritated, as they are being exposed to ergonomic risk factors. Someone might report aches and fatigue although it is usually mild. Symptoms will generally disappear with time away from this work and a usual night’s sleep should be sufficient to provide rest and recovery. For the intermediate stage, muscles will no longer be able to repair itself, leading to a more advanced stage of injury. Discomfort is present when working and continues well after the work has ended. In the advanced stage, considerable discomfort seems to always be present and sleep is usually affected. At this point of time the injury is usually long-lasting, making it quite difficult to reverse the symptoms. The best outcomes for ergonomic interventions is either in the early or intermediate stages of musculoskeletal injury development. And, that’s why paying attention to warning signs can be a valuable strategy!
2. Keep Up An ‘Ergonomic’ Seated Posture
One of the most valuable yet often hard-to-implement pieces of ergonomic advice is posture while you are seated. Simply put, a good and neutral seated posture can go a long way to prevent discomfort and make you more comfortable in the long run! Also, it’s a no cost strategy to many long-term ergonomic problems. If you only are able to do one strategy from this list, limit unsupported sitting or perched sitting! This study found that internal disc pressure was considerably higher in unsupported sitting than in standing. And, increased disc pressure can be related to many chronic degenerative back conditions. To get even more long-term relief, you can combine supported and reclined backrest positions. In this research, it shows how simply using the chair’s backrest throughout the day can improve comfort. Specifically a reclined backrest (we like to reference between 95 and 115 degrees, which is from the Canadian Standards Association) has the lowest disc pressures and lowest muscle activity recordings from the spinal muscles. Want more bang for your buck? Combine the two! Increasing both the backrest inclination, lumbar (aka lower back) support, and supported sitting can further decrease risk for back pain.
3. Don’t Forget Those Breaks!
Another really simple yet often overlooked ergonomic suggestion to prevent long-term wear and tear is simply taking breaks throughout the day. This research found that including rest breaks into normal working days seems to slow reports of low back pain. What I have observed is that people tend to sit for long durations, only getting up for lunch time, ‘bio-breaks’, or at the end of the workday. Sitting too long is considered to be a sedentary posture and there are many negative health outcomes related to prolonged sitting leading to many chronic diseases. These researchers also found that prolonged sitting (2 hours) causes increased risk for the lower back. A standing break may be beneficial for the spine, but it doesn’t really provide much relief to the lower back’s musculoskeletal system. So, some level of exercise is beneficial in changing the muscle activity in the back. Don’t forget that standing still while working at a standing desk is also considered to be ergonomically risky. Breaks are key! There are many clever ways to incorporate them into your daily schedule.
Here are just a few break options on ways to get a little more active in your day:
- Very short pauses (sometimes called a change of posture)
- Micropauses, where workers can relax their arms and hands briefly off the keyboard
- Short breaks initiated by work such as when the telephone rings or chatting with a coworker/supervisor
- Breaks initiated by the workers such as a deliberate change in tasks, such as changing from computer work to faxing, photocopying, of filing
- Formal breaks such as coffee breaks and lunch time
4. Be Sure To Use A Good Ergonomic Set-Up
Last but not least, since this is an ergonomics website, we wouldn’t be doing our part if we don’t mention the value of a good solid ergonomic set-up at preventing office injuries. This study found that that a good ergonomics set-up combined with training resulted in less reported injury symptoms throughout the workday. I could continue to list the numerous research articles that have all found similar results to this, but this portion of this post would quickly get too long (and probably a bit boring too). The key messaging is that an individualized office ergonomic set-up can prevent injuries from occurring in the first place or reduce injury symptoms. There are 4 key areas that need to be optimized in any office ergonomic set-up. These general rules of thumb for a good ergonomic set-up of your workstation are:
- The monitor should be slightly lower than your resting eye height. The bottom of the monitor should also be tilted upwards towards you as well for an extra bit of comfort.
- Your entire back should be comfortably resting on the backrest of the chair. The lumbar (lower back) support should be positioned in a comfortable position where you feel relief. The backrest should also be tilted between 95 and 115 degrees reclined.
- Your natural hand working height (found with your elbows positioned at your side and bent at about 90 degrees) should just slightly higher than your keyboard and mouse height.
- Your feet should always be in firm contact with either the ground or suitable alternative, like a footrest (the prongs of your chair would not count in this case).