Workplace Pain and Strain? Straighten Up and Type Right!

Workplace Pain and Strain

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It’s easy to develop bad habits sitting at our desks all day. We slouch. We strain. We crane our necks. Our shoulders sneak up toward our ears. Over time, these postural tendencies can lead to serious disabilities, ranging from carpal tunnel syndrome to spinal disc disease. Fortunately, with small adjustments to your workspace, you can treat existing aches and pains and prevent future injury.

When your workplace is ergonomically correct, meaning your desk, chair, keyboard, mouse, and monitor are all in the correct position for your body–your posture will be more balanced and aligned, allowing for less strain on the body. Good ergonomics can lead to better breathing, decreased injury and pain, less stress on your nervous system, and a body that functions better overall.

Optimizing your alignment doesn’t take much. We recommend taking a survey of your body in your workplace, from your feet to your head. By going through the simple ergonomic checklist below, you can become familiar with correct alignment–and then make small adjustments that can make a big difference in your comfort and long-term health.

Leg Alignment

Your feet should be planted squarely on the ground, with your upper thighs parallel to the floor and supported by your chair.

Tips: A chair with adjustable height, tilt, and lumbar support is key for proper ergonomics. Adjust your chair so that your legs form a 90-degree angle at the knee. If your desk is too high, put a footrest under your feet. If you tend to cross your legs, make sure this isn’t causing you to lean to one side – and be sure you switch legs throughout the day.

Spinal Alignment

With your pelvis in a neutral position, your spine should rise over your hips, angled slightly backward and supported in the lumbar region of your lower back.

Tips: Tilt your pelvis forward and backward until it feels neutral. Lengthen your spine so that your breath flows easily. Get a chair with lumbar support, or simply place a folded towel or small cushion behind you where the small of your back connects with your chair.

Head and Neck Alignment

You’ve heard it a million times, but it’s still true: to avoid long-term injury, don’t slouch and/or hang your head. Your back, neck, and head should be stacked vertically.

Tips: Tilt your head too far forward and then too far back; then find a comfortable spot in-between. Adjust your computer screen so that you keep your head in this position, with your eyes looking slightly down at an angle of about 15-20 degrees, instead of craning your neck up or down to see the screen. The top of the monitor should be even with your forehead and directly in front of you. If you reference documents while working, get a document holder to keep these materials level alongside your monitor.

Arm and Shoulder Alignment

Your shoulders should be neutral and relaxed with your elbows hanging under your shoulders and your arms forming a 90-degree angle at the elbow.

Tips: Raise your shoulders up toward your ears and squeeze; then release. Do this three times and you’ll likely find the proper relaxed position. Repeat throughout the day whenever your shoulders start to creep back up. Scrunching your shoulders to talk on the phone is definitely a no-no, so get a headset. Adjust your armrests to keep your arms at the correct 90-degree angle, or if they’re in your way, get rid of the armrests altogether.

Wrist Alignment

Your wrists should be straight and supported, with your fingers relaxed and lengthened. Your hands, wrists, and forearms should sit in the same plane, level with your elbows. Your arms can hang comfortably at your sides or rest lightly on your chair’s armrests.

Tips: Find a neutral position by flexing your wrists and then extending them several times. Use a gel pad to keep your wrists supported in this position. Your mouse should fit comfortably in the palm of your hand. Remember, mice are right- or left-handed too, so get the correct one for you. You might even want both! Changing your mouse hand is a tough skill to master, but can work wonders for preventing carpal tunnel syndrome. Split keyboards are a controversial option but worth trying if your regular keyboard causes you discomfort.

Once you’ve arranged your workspace to facilitate good posture, we recommend taking a three-minute break every 30 minutes. Stretch your muscles, rest your eyes, drink some water, and change positions to avoid fatigue. Stand up with your heels, hips, shoulders, and head against a wall to remind you to lengthen and straighten your spine. Breathe deeply, relax your arms, and stretch your neck and shoulders. Remember, muscles are meant for movement, not to be held static for long periods of time.

Finally, don’t leave your good posture at the office! Utilize these principles of alignment in other aspects of your day–while you eat, exercise, watch movies,  and even while you sleep. If you have questions, your One Medical Group provider will be happy to answer them. Together, we’ll work to keep you strong, flexible and pain-free.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.