Desk work and musculoskeletal disorders: Ergonomics in the workplace … by Kate
At Hands from Heaven we are all passionate about achieving the best possible outcomes for our clients, and that means getting to know not only what they do for work, but how they do their jobs.
So often, the way that we conduct our work can impact our bodies – especially bodies that work behind desks. In today’s blog we will explore exactly what we see in clinic on a daily basis, and just how easy it can be to adjust your workstation and work practices to ease unnecessary strain on your body.
Picture this….you’re at the start of a big day at work, and as you sit down at your desk you know that by the end of the day you’ll really feel your lower back stiffening up, your shoulders tightening up, and a headache has already started to make itself known! … Sound familiar? … Read on!
Ergonomics – the way we work, at work
The word ergonomics is one of those terms that gets floated around workplaces fairly commonly and relates to human factors that come into play when figuring out how to optimise outcomes. Human factors can include adjustable items such as the design of your work space, as well as how specific tasks are performed.
Some workplaces will have WH&S or OH&S officers, who may have a responsibility to ensure that each workstation is adjusted to suit the individual. At other workplaces, it may be the employee’s job to get themselves settled and comfortable at their desk. Whatever the case, it can be important to know a little about the ergonomics of your workstation, to ensure that you avoid unnecessary strain on your body and simply do your job that little bit better!
How does ergonomics relate to Remedial Massage?
Remedial Massage treatments are designed to assist your body to recover from built up tension and postural issues that arise differently in each individual. Often clients will repeatedly see us to ‘undo’ what working at a desk does to their bodies. Just as often we see clients when they are in so much discomfort that they can’t stand it any longer.
As natural therapists, part of our role is to help clients realise what may be contributing to their symptoms and provide advice around what they can do to perhaps avoid or at least reduce the severity of said symptoms. How great would it be to sit at a desk that is set up just for you, so that you could just get on with your work and not get distracted by discomfort.
Poor workstation setup and common issues we see in clinic
Perhaps the biggest complaint seen through our clinic is a combination of low back discomfort or pain, and tightness through neck and shoulders. So how does this happen? Quite simply, we humans weren’t designed to sit for long periods – and we definitely weren’t designed to stare at a screen all day. We were born to move around, and most of us stop when we get to work.
Sitting for extended periods can impact on muscles that flex the hips, and to conserve energy these muscles stay in a shortened position. Over time, this can also have a role to play in lower back pain and discomfort as the lumbar spinal curve increases. Similarly, when the head remains stationery and shoulders are elevated to allow hands to access the keyboard, both the neck and shoulder muscles can shorten to help maintain stability. As time passes this can lead to a stiffening up of the upper body, and potentially quite severe headaches. Also, trying to sit upright all day proves more difficult the older we get. Keyboard use can lead to a slumping forward of the shoulders, and as the day wears on, potential slumping forward of the upper body. In fact, if you are reading this whilst sitting in front of a computer, I urge you to check your posture now. Does any of this sound familiar?
Another symptom that is common to desk workers is tension at the base of their skull, at the top of their neck. This is the location of a small set of muscles whose primary role is to make small adjustments to the location of the head. In today’s world however most people will commonly crane their heads forward to either look closer at a screen, or as a result of their shoulders and upper back rounding forward. When this happens the head automatically sits forward of the torso, and often you’ll find yourself looking downward. To counter this, those small muscles must hold the head up, and also try and counter the weight of the head. All of this leads to overuse and tension at the base of the skull and front of the neck. The postural result can be seen in people whose head sits forward of their body when viewed side-on.
I’ve read enough! Tell me how to adjust my workstation!
One of the great things about coming to Hands from Heaven is that you are guaranteed to be given some self-care tips after treatment. This can include stretches as well as general advice around lifestyle and of course workstation setup!
Workplace ergonomics really isn’t as hard as it may seem, and it can actually be a bit of fun rearranging things to be more efficient and comfortable. If you are not sure what to think about when setting up your desk, here are a few things to bear in mind:
- Thighs should be parallel to the floor, with knees at right angles and feet flat on the floor. Use a foot stool and adjust the height of your chair accordingly;
- Arms should rest comfortably at your sides with elbows bent at right angles;
- Shoulders should feel relaxed and not elevated or rounded forward when your arms are by your side;
- Keyboard and mouse should be positioned on the desk so as to avoid reaching forward or across the desk excessively;
- Computer screen should be adjusted so that the top of the screen is in line with eye level to avoid craning your head forward and keep your head looking straight ahead;
- Computer should ideally be set up straight in front of you, as constantly twisting or looking to one side can create unevenness in posture and muscular unbalance.
It should be noted at this point that these recommendations are purely a guideline, and it would be wise to consult your WH&S or OH&S officer if there is one at your workplace. They can assist with ensuring your desk is set up correctly, as well as potentially provide tools such as wrist supports or foot stools. Another option that is becoming more popular is a sit-to-stand desk. This may be a viable option for those who suffer from chronic postural issues and discomfort.
Should you have any questions at all regarding this blog, please feel free to drop in to clinic, call us up, or better yet – make an appointment for a treatment. Your body will thank you for it!