Workplace Ergonomics


HOW DOES MY DESK JOB CAUSE BACK PROBLEMS?

One of the most common myths about back problems is that only those who do physical labor are at risk of injury. Actually, those who lead a sedentary life-style are at equal risk. Office workers who sit for long periods of time place significant stresses on their backs. Back problems may be avoided by a few simple modifications of your workspace.

HOW IMPORTANT IS PROPER BACK SUPPORT?

Back support while performing sedentary work for long periods of time is crucial to a healthy back. Most back problems occur in the area of the inward curve in the small of the back just above the pelvis. Pain usually develops when the curve (lordosis) is lost due to long periods of sitting. A lumbar support may help to preserve this curve. A lumbar support pillow or roll may be purchased at a drug store or medical supply store. Conversely, a support can be made by simply rolling a towel firmly into a cylinder shape. It should be positioned so that it rests at the curve of your lower back. If needed, it may be secured to your chair.

CAN SELECTING THE CORRECT CHAIR FOR ME PLAY A ROLE IN REDUCING BACK PROBLEMS?

Yes! Many office chairs are not the correct height - they are either too tall or too short. Ideally, your feet should sit with the soles flat on the floor in front of the chair. The seat height should adjust so that the entire thigh is supported when you sit upright. The chair should have lumbar (lower back) support as well.


WHAT ABOUT MY DESK? DOES IT NEED TO BE A CERTAIN HEIGHT?

Your desk or table should not be so low as to make you hunch over, nor so high as to make you sit with raised elbows. Since it is more difficult to change desk height, it is best to change your chair height. If your chair cannot be adjusted to the proper height to allow you to use your desk comfortably, you may have to sit on a telephone book or a firm pillow or two.

SHOULD I USE FOOT SUPPORT WHILE SEATED AT MY DESK?

Most back specialists believe that it is best to have your knees raised above your hips to relieve pressure on your lower back. At your desk, use a mobile foot support so it can slide around as you shift your weight. A telephone book or two can be used if necessary.

HOW SHOULD I ARRANGE MY DESK TOP?

Arrange all the desk top items that you use frequently in a comfortable location. The purpose is to position items on your desk to avoid continual twisting and reaching movements. Use a slanted loose-leaf notebook for writing. Make sure your computer monitor and reading stand are at a height that keeps your head up. In doing so, you should be able to hold your head higher and spine straighter to avoid the strain of constantly bending over. Make use of the speaker phone rather than cradling the receiver between shoulder and neck. My personal preference is a headset.

WHAT ELSE CAN I DO AT WORK TO AVOID NECK AND/OR BACK PAIN?

Focus on getting up from your desk at least once every hour and stretch. A few simple exercises could help offset the effects of the fixed posture which many of us adopt over the course of the day. These exercises will help straighten your spine, relax your neck muscles, and relieve built up tension.

  • Neck Roll - Roll your head slowly in a complete circle five times clockwise and five times counterclockwise.
  • Back Extension - Stand up as far away from the walls as you can manage, lean backwards with hands on the wall, and try to crawl down the wall with your hands.
  • Pinky Pinches - Try to touch your pinky fingers together with arms out behind you as far as possible.
  • Hamstring Stretch - Put one foot on a chair, bend forward as far as it is comfortable, and try to touch your toes while keeping your knees straight. Repeat several times.
  • Calf Stretch - Lean lower arms and elbows against a wall, bend one knee and slide arms down the wall, with the other leg pushed back to steady yourself. Repeat several times with each knee.
  • Spine Straightener - Lean your back torso against the wall and slide down to a "chair" position, hold 5 seconds and repeat.
  • Hip Extension - Using your desk for support, extend one leg backward, keeping knee straight. Hold for three seconds. Turn around and repeat with the other leg.

Stretch only as far as feels comfortable. It is alright to feel a gentle pulling sensation when doing so. Regular use of these exercises will help you ward off minor discomforts and strengthen your body to withstand the pressure of sitting in one position. If your back pain and discomfort persist for more than a few days, you should see your spine specialist.