When you sit at your desk for 40 hours a week, you can pick up habits that may eventually lead to serious injury or illness. Repetition, awkward posture, and force or pressure, are some of the most common causes of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs).
What Are Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders?
WMSDs are caused or made worse by the work environment. They can result in severe and debilitating symptoms, such as pain, numbness and tingling; reduced worker productivity; lost time from work; temporary or permanent disability; inability to perform job tasks; and an increase in worker compensation costs.
WMSDs represent a wide range of disorders that can exhibit mild, periodic symptoms or become severe chronic and debilitating conditions. Carpal tunnel syndrome, tenosynovitis, tension neck syndrome and lower back pain are common types of WMSDs.
WMSDs can be caused by repetitive, forceful or prolonged exertions of the hands; frequent or heavy lifting, pushing, pulling or carrying heavy objects; prolonged awkward postures; and vibration. The risk level for WMSDs depends on how long a worker is exposed to these conditions, how often they are exposed and the level of exposure.
Risk Factors for WMSDs
Millions of Americans spend as many as 2,000 hours a year glued to their computer screens in the office. Spending long hours working at a computer or sitting in a poorly configured workstation can lead to injury. Being aware of the following major risk factors for injury in the workplace can help you avoid getting hurt.
Poor posture. You may find that you’re slouching, gripping the mouse, and that your shoulders are slumped and your head is falling forward. This can put strain on the upper body from the neck to the fingertips.
Repetitive movements. Typing numbers into a spreadsheet or circling a mouse or trackball over and over tires your muscles.
Static loading. Working at your computer monitor and maintaining your posture for a prolonged period with little movement – often referred to as static loading – can cause injury. Sitting in one place for long periods also slows blood circulation, which is needed to remove the waste products that otherwise accumulate through inactivity.
Poor technique. Cradling the telephone between your ear and shoulder, gripping the mouse and resting your wrists, forearms or elbows on the desk or armrest as you type can lead to injury.
Incorrect workstation setup. Sitting in an odd position can cause muscles to become strained and fatigued. Monitors and keyboards that are positioned too high or too low, and a mouse that is positioned too far away or too close can also be injurious.
Lack of awareness. You may be the type of person who gets so involved in your work that you forget about your posture or movements. Being aware of pain or discomfort while you work can help you avoid injury or re-injury.
Be Proactive to Prevent Injury
WMSDs are usually preventable. Proper positioning and posture are important to keeping injury at bay. Situating your workstation properly not only helps prevent injury, it can also improve your mood and productivity. Follow these tips to set up your computer workstation for optimal working conditions.
Step 1: Situating Your Chair
• Push your hips back as far as they can go in the chair.
• Adjust the seat height so that your feet are flat on the floor and your knees are equal to, or slightly lower than, your hips. Use a footrest if your feet do not touch the ground when sitting.
• Set the back of your chair at a 100 degree to 110 degree reclined angle. Make sure your upper and lower back are supported. Use inflatable cushions or pillows if necessary.
• Adjust the armrests so that your shoulders are relaxed.
Step 2: Positioning Your Keyboard
• Pull up close to your keyboard.
• Position the keyboard directly in front of your body.
• Readjust the keyboard so that the section you use most frequently is centered with your body.
• Adjust the keyboard height so that your shoulders are relaxed, your elbows are in a slightly open position (100 degrees to 110 degrees) and your wrists and hands are straight.
• Tilt your keyboard away from you if you sit in a forward or upright position. A slight forward tilt will help maintain a straight wrist position if you are reclined.
• Use a wristrest to rest the palms of your hands between keystrokes. Avoid using excessively wide wristrests or wristrests that are higher than the spacebar on your keyboard.
• Place the mouse as close as possible to the keyboard. Your arms should be in a neutral and relaxed position. Do not reach for the mouse.
Step 3: Arranging Your Monitor, Document and Telephone
• Center the monitor directly in front of you above your keyboard.
• Position the top of the monitor two to three inches above seated eye level.
• Sit at least an arm’s length away from the screen.
• Put your source documents directly in front of you between the monitor and the keyboard, using a copy stand. Or place source documents on a document holder adjacent to the monitor.
• Place your telephone within easy reach.
• Use a headset or speakerphone to avoid cradling the handset.
Step 4: Taking Pauses and Breaks
• Take one- to two-minute stretch breaks every 20 to 30 minutes. After each hour of work, change tasks or take a break for five to 10 minutes. Avoid sitting at your computer during lunch breaks.
• Rest and refocus your eyes periodically to prevent eye fatigue. Look away from the monitor and focus on something in the distance.
• Cover your eyes with your palms for 10 to 15 seconds.
• Stay physically fit. Stretching and exercising regularly outside of work can help you avoid injury on the job and stay mentally and physically strong. QCBN
Occupational medicine experts at YRMC PhysicianCare’s Spine Center are ready to help if a workplace injury occurs. From physical medicine and rehabilitation to neurology and neurosurgery, they offer the specialized skill and training needed to effectively treat workplace injuries for you and your team. Visit them online at www.yrmc.org.