Often when people think about work injuries they immediately think of manual labor jobs where heavy lifting is required. Static, prolonged positions can also be responsible for work injuries. With proper office design, an awareness of posture, and frequent movement breaks, these injuries can be prevented.
Your Office Environment
Posture plays a very important role in preventing injury from prolonged positions. Posture is your body’s alignment, how you hold yourself up against the force of gravity. Basically, it is how your bones stack on top of each other. “Neutral” posture is where our body is aligned in such a way that there is minimal stress on the joints, ligaments, and muscles. In this position, every structure is able to do their job with the least amount of effort. The goal when designing your office is to optimize this neutral alignment. Slouched posture, a head that is craned forward and an upper back that is rounded, is an example of an alignment that puts undo strain on muscles, joints, ligaments and can result in pain and injury.
Although everybody’s individual needs may vary when designing the office set-up, here are a few basic guidelines to get you started.
Quick Ergonomic Fixes:
• Head upright and over the base of your neck, no craning forward.
• Feet flat on the floor.
• Use an armrest for your elbows for the support.
• Make sure there’s clearance for your knees under your desk.
• Leave some space (3 fingers) between the back of your knees and chair.
• Screen at eye level or slightly below, monitor directly in front.
• Relaxed shoulders.
• Elbows at roughly 90 degrees, wrists should be neutral (don’t tilt upwards).
• Keep your thighs horizontal with a 90 to 110 angle sitting back at the hip.
• Use a lumbar roll at the base of your spine to keep the natural inward curve of your lower back.
Of course, nobody is expected to keep perfect, neutral posture at all times. That certainly isn’t realistic for a dynamic office environment, or any environment for that matter. What is important is that the neutral alignment becomes your default position, the position you return to for much of the time.
Take A Break, Stand Up, Move Around
Our body craves movement. It is movement that helps circulation, nourish the joints, and keep flexibility. Even if aligned in the best possible posture, your body would react negatively if you remained in that position for a long period of time. Reversing your posture and frequently changing positions can give muscles, ligaments, and joints a much needed break. If you are looking down at a paper on your desk for a long period of time, stop and look up at the ceiling every once in awhile. If you sit for a long time, take some time to stand up and extend backwards.
Moving Better In Your Office Space
Just as prolonged, static positions can result in injury, so can improper, repetitive movement patterns. This can include how you answer your phone, how you reach across your desk, or how you use your mouse and keyboard. When movements are performed poorly or too frequently, injuries can occur to the tendons, muscles, or ligaments. These are called repetitive strain injuries. Physical therapists can analyze those movements to be sure they are efficient and being performed in a way that minimizes injuries.
As movement and posture specialists, physical therapists play an important role in both prevention and rehabilitation of injuries at work. When designing a workstation or work procedures, physical therapists can be sure it is individualized to meet the specifications needed for the employee. Such a proactive approach can help to prevent injury. When there is an injury, physical therapists are key for helping to ensure a speedy but safe return to work.