Avoid Injuries at Work

March 27, 2017

By: Melissa Trader, OTR/L, CHT

Ergonomics: the study of people’s efficiency in the workplace.

If you’re like a lot of people, you often spend more time at work than home. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that your workstation is set up ergonomically, which is just a fancy way of saying that your workstation suits your needs and supports your body appropriately for the work that you do.

Many people assume that office work is “easy” on your body. But those who work in the same position throughout the day are as much at risk of injury as those doing heavy labor. These injuries can be prevented with knowledge about good posture, ergonomics and management techniques.

Specifically, office work can put your body at risk for injury to the back, neck and upper extremities. Here are some tips on how to protect you from injury:

Back injuries: When working at a desk all day in a forward or “slouched” posture, back pain or back injuries can occur.

  • A good chair is crucial to prevention of back pain, with lumbar support in the appropriate position (6-10” above the seat pan). If your current chair does not meet this need, an additional lumbar pillow can be added.
  • Sit to stand desks are becoming more popular to allow variety in position. Some are tabletop devices that will raise and lower your computer components and some involve the entire desk moving up and down. While costly, this option can be very helpful in allowing a variety of positions to prevent back pain.

Neck Injuries: If your monitor is not properly placed, you can experience neck pain or injury

  • Computer monitors should be at eye level and straight in front of where you are seated. If you are looking down or to the side all day, this can lead to tightness on one side of your neck. Monitor risers are helpful in getting your monitor to the proper level.
  • Monitors should be approximately 18-40” away. Further away can lead to protracting the neck forward or visual problems.

Upper extremity injuries: Proper wrist and elbow position is important to prevent tendon irritation and/or nerve compression

  • When seated, arms should be at your side in about a 90-degree angle. Arm rests should not be relied on all day, as pressure to the inside of the elbow can result in nerve compression
  • Wrists should be in neutral position (or straight). Wrist rests; mouse pads and under-the-desk keyboard trays are available to correct any issues.

When in doubt about position, don’t be afraid to reach out to your employer, a physician, or request an ergonomic evaluation from an occupational therapist. Small changes can make a big difference in making your workday more comfortable.

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