Sitting at a computer for 8 hours a day may not seem like a risk to your health. After all, you’re not doing any heavy lifting, being exposed to potentially harmful chemicals or working at high altitudes. What’s so dangerous about working a desk job?
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) account for more than $15 billion in workers compensation costs. Common areas of pain for desk workers include the lower back, shoulder, neck and wrist regions. What is the cause of most MSDs? Most areas of pain are susceptible to injury because of:
- Hunching forward to stare at the computer screen
- Long periods of repetitive typing – without taking breaks
- Poor posture or having a poorly positioned chair
- Tilting your head sideways to cradle the phone
These are just some of the many bad habits desk workers pick up around the world. Thankfully, you can take preventative action to reduce pain and discomfort. All it takes is reassessing your furniture layout, posture and work habits!
Straighten That Back
According to the Cleveland Clinic in the United States, “….proper posture keeps bones and joints in the correct alignment so that muscles are being used properly.”
Therefore, it’s important to use muscles in your body to reduce stress on ligaments that hold your spinal joints together. To do this – sit up straight and straighten the shoulders too. With the buttocks touching the back of the chair, your back should form a natural curvature of the spine. If you need to adjust your chair, readjust it to a 100°-110° reclined angle. This not only prevents the spine from becoming fatigued – but stops you from slouching.
Reposition Your Chair
Next, you need to configure your entire workstation – starting with your chair. Keep your feel flat on the ground to relieve stress on the hips and lower back. Do this by adjusting the height of your chair until both feet are evenly flat on the floor. Knees should also be equal to, or slightly lower, than your hips.
If you’re struggling to keep your feet on the floor, raise them to a comfortable level with a footrest. Does your chair have armrests? They should be supporting your arms and elbows at a 90° angle. If they’re getting in the way – simply take them off or invest in a more ergonomic chair. Lastly, make sure the height of your chair allows the wrists to be straight, while keeping hands equal or below elbow level.
An optimal monitor position will reduce the risk of neck pain, shoulder pain and eye strain. Here are some useful tips to maintain a correct eye level at your workstation:
- Adjust the height of your computer screen until the top of the monitor is at eye level or slightly below.
- Sit at least an arm’s length away from the computer screen to reduce eye strain or fatigue.
- Keep your neck and back in-line with the torso, while shoulders should be nice and relaxed.
- Find yourself cradling the phone? Invest in a hands-free headset to stop yourself from tilting sideways.
Take Small Breaks Often
Sitting for long periods of time raises many health concerns. From obesity to weakened leg muscles, hip joints and poor spinal health – no wonder ergonomists are encouraging employees to take short breaks. By taking time away from the desk – you encourage healthy blood circulation and reduce the risk of injury from repetitive tasks. Here are some simple ways you can incorporate small breaks into your work routine:
Relax Your Eyes – Staring at the computer screen for long periods does weird things to your body. Did you know the longer you stare at a computer screen, the less you start to blink? Thus, leaving the surface of the eye exposed to dust and other particles. There’s a few ways to can reduce the effects of eye strains:
- Rapidly blink them for a few seconds to refresh the tear film and remove dust from the eye surface.
- Relax the eye muscles by focusing on an object away from the computer screen for 15-30 seconds.
- If your eyes are really feeling fatigued, cover them with your palms and keep them closed for 15-20 seconds.
Get Moving – Regular stretching can be easily done in the comfort of your cubicle or office space. Plus, it helps relax the muscles and keep you feeling alert during the day. Every 20-30 minutes, take a short 1-2 minute break to stretch or do a quick lap around the office. You can also take a walk on your lunch break to refresh yourself for the afternoon.
Switch Tasks – Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) affects workers in a range of industries who perform repetitive motions on a daily basis. If you’re working at a computer, you’re most likely at risk of getting RSI from typing. To combat the repetitive motion of typing, you need to switch up tasks entirely to reduce the risk of injury. This may sound counterproductive to your work schedule, but there are ways you can stay productive away from the computer:
- Make that important business phone call you’ve been holding off all day
- Reorganise or clean up your desk to create more space
- Review your written documents or take notes with a pen and paper
- If you’re due for a break, take the time to do some stretches or exercises
Keeping Up Good Habits
Maintaining good posture at your workstation is a long-term commitment that has many health benefits. Unfortunately, managing your priorities at work makes it easy to fall back into old habits. From trying to meet deadlines, to managing clients and colleagues – sometimes our work obligations result in us putting the needs of others ahead of ourselves. In order to successfully maintain good work habits, you may need an extra hand in keeping you on track.
Ergonomic software can help you stay on-top of your new fitness routine. There are many freely available programs you can download onto your office computer. Ergociser is one of them. It works like a timer to remind you when it’s time to take a short exercise break. Simply pick one of four different time intervals (15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes etc) and you’ll get a reminder telling you to take a break.
Ergociser goes one step further than this. Every time you reach the next interval, your browser will automatically load up one of over 100 animated demonstrations of a stretching activity. These exercises are easy to do and can be performed in the comfort of your cubicle or office space. Dion Lovrecich, Marketing Manager at Digital360 says “I benefit from technology like the UprightGo. Items like this are becoming more common especially as crowdfunded initiatives. They automatically remind you to correct your posture when you start slouching. It works wonders for me.” By using software to remind you of these basic routines, you can greatly improve the chances of maintaining your new lifestyle at work.
Your Health is Worth the Effort
Prolonged sitting shouldn’t leave you feeling sore every day. Spend time investing in healthy practices that promote good posture, relaxed eye muscles and regular activity throughout the day. Doing so will not only leave you feeling better about yourself – but more productive and alert for the challenges that lie ahead.