Whether at work or at home, you should take the same precautions to protect your back from injury and pain. By applying some of the principles of ergonomics to your office tasks, you can learn to do these tasks safely and efficiently, and avoid hurting your back.
Many people do not realize that their backs can be injured in a static or fixed position just as easily as in motion. You can put significant stress on your back while sitting for hours in a chair at work or at home. Many people with sedentary jobs that require long hours of static positioning feel discomfort and pain at the end of the day.
WHAT CAUSES BACK PAIN AT WORK?
The most common reason for back pain at work is static positioning, either sitting or standing.
Static sitting position
People who sit for long periods are at great risk of creating serious static positioning stresses to the back. Think of the last time you took an airplane or train trip. How many times did you shift in your seat or lean from one side to the other? Most likely, you did so many times. The same thing happens when you sit in your chair at work. After sitting in one position for a long time, your body becomes fatigued, causing you to shift in your chair.
Static standing position
Standing for long periods is also stressful to your back. Your body fatigues because you are in a static position. Shifting your weight helps to relieve some of the fatigue and give your muscles a rest. What You Can Do to Prevent Back Pain at the Office Unfortunately, there is no easy solution for preventing back pain at the office. If there were, fewer people would suffer from back pain. But, you can do some things to reduce the likelihood of sustaining a back injury at the office.
The most important component of your workstation is the chair. Adjust your chair to allow your elbows to remain at a 90-degree angle when typing or writing at your desk. Experts say your knees, hips, and elbows should all be at a 90-degree angle when you sit at your desk. A 90-degree angle will result in an “L”-shaped position of your arm or leg, with the elbow or knee being the corner of the “L.” You will need an adjustable chair, footrest, and keyboard tray to ensure this.
Your computer monitor height is important. If your monitor is too high, you tend to lean backward in your chair and tilt your head up. If it is too low, you tend to slouch forward in your chair and tilt your head down. Either of these positions can add stress to your neck and back. If your monitor is at the proper height, your eyes look straight into the top third of the screen. With the changes in computer technology, the use of a mouse is now commonplace at computer workstations. Improper positioning of your mouse can lead to wrist, arm, and shoulder pain. Use the same principles to position your mouse as you would to position your keyboard. Your elbow should be at a 90-degree angle, and your wrist should be in the neutral position (straight, not deviated up or down). Also, alternating hands when using your mouse helps to provide recovery time for your wrist and relieve stress and tension in your arms and shoulders.
Frequent rest breaks are important to reduce fatigue. The term rest does not necessarily mean inactivity; in fact, it can mean just the opposite. For example, if your body is in a static position for long periods, you reduce blood flow to the muscles that are being used, and they become fatigued. By moving from a static position to one of moderate activity (from sitting to walking, for instance), you increase blood flow to all major muscle groups and reduce fatigue. Frequent breaks, every 45 minutes to an hour, can help reduce on-the-job stress
Healthy lifestyle choices are an important component. Studies show that smoking, heavy drinking, overeating, and excess weight can all contribute to back pain and many other physical ailments. By making smart lifestyle choices and keeping your body in good physical condition with regular exercise, you can help to reduce your risk of sustaining a back injury or experiencing back pain.
MODIFYING YOUR WORKPLACE
If you find that you need to make changes to your workstation, you should enlist the cooperation and support of your employer. Some workstation modifications can be very inexpensive (for example, using a telephone book to raise the height of a monitor) and easily accomplished. Others may require the purchase of additional equipment.
Source: Prairie Spine and Pain Institute, Dr. Richard A. Kube II, MD.