When you spend one-third of your day at work, it’s essential that work doesn’t become a pain.
Regardless of the work you do, doing it properly is key to avoid common issues like back pain and repetitive strain injuries. The good news is that early awareness and a few simple steps can help address issues before they become significant.
“Ergonomics really is something people have to be conscious about,” says Dr. Aren Giske, an occupational medicine physician with Kaiser Permanente. And remember that at the end of the day, “if it feels wrong, it probably is.”
What is repetitive strain? When someone regularly makes the same movement in a way that is awkward or uncomfortable for their body, over time it can cause pain and inflammation. Everyone from factory workers to office administrators are susceptible, but paying attention to ergonomics can reduce the likelihood of strain.
- Posture perfect: In this area of Washington State, Dr. Giske often sees repetitive strain connected with office and computer work, for example, so it’s essential to pay attention to your posture at the keyboard: A good neutral position for your back, with feet flat on the floor with your head and body square to the keyboard and screen.
- The right tools: Look for a chair that is adjustable to suit your body for the type of work you will be doing, including your height, arms and back.
- Good habits: Avoid cradling the phone in your neck – try using a headset or speaker phone if you often need to use the phone and keyboard at the same time.
- Change it up: Frequent use of a mouse and keyboard can create discomfort in the thumb, hand, arm and elbow. Try switching your mouse to the opposite side for awhile, Dr. Giske suggests. While it may feel awkward initially, it will give your muscles a rest before they become more inflamed. Specialty keyboards are also an option, but the best practice there is simply to use the design that feels most comfortable to you.
- Get moving: Try to stand up to stretch or even take a quick walk, just to give your body a break every so often – “anything to break that static posture,” Dr. Giske says, suggesting people program reminders onto their phones or fitness trackers. Standing desks can be another good option, provided that people remember to use the standing option, in addition to an overall activity level away from the office.
When should you seek medical care? “I would suggest people seek medical treatment when a situation becomes more than a minor annoyance that doesn’t go away within a day or two,” Dr. Giske says. “If we catch things earlier rather than later, we can recommend adjustments that can prevent more serious concerns, and help keep people safely working.”
Recognized as one of America’s leading healthcare providers and not-for-profit health plans, Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. Learn more at kp.org/share.