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GC: Combat office injuries and fatigue

By Jessica Rodrigo
Nov. 16, 2011 at 5:16 a.m.


Common injuries from working at a desk

Carpal tunnel - Injury develops from repetition of the same movements of the wrist; often feels like a numbness in the fingers and hand to a tingling or burning sensation

Strains of the muscles - Tightening of muscles; usually occurs when muscles are used in ways they are not used to

Headaches - May develop from looking at computer screens for too long

Lowerback pain - Often occurs when there is no support and the back is curved

Wrist pain - May be caused by incorrect use of input devices

Eye strain - May occur from incorrect distance or set up of computer monitor

Source: Dr. Ray Franka, owner of Victoria Chiropractic Clinic

Sitting behind a desk all day may sound like a dream job - not having to get up and do any physical labor, except getting up to grab papers from the printer a few feet away, or in some cases, just a quick swivel of the chair and you may not even need to get up.

Even though sitting at a desk, hiding behind that 17-inch computer monitor for several hours may sound like an easy task, it may be taking a toll on your body.

As trends move toward computer-based work and everyday use, Dr. Ray Franka, owner of the Victoria Chiropractic Clinic, said injuries developed in the office are becoming more prominent.

"Everyone is on the computer, all the time. Not only at the office, but at home also," the chiropractor said. "It's becoming more and more common to see in office environments."

When setting up a desk space, whether it be at the office or at home, there are several things to consider: tasks, routines, movements, accessibility, etc.

Take into consideration which tasks will be done most often, and what would be the most efficient and easiest on whoever is carrying them out. This includes the type of chair used at the desk, to the placement of the computer's input devices, to the kind of floor in the office.

Building the right desk space

Whether it be for employees or yourself, having the right desk set up will not only prevent injuries in the future, it may also combat fatigue. And for managers and business owners, that may be worth noting.

For those who work in the office on full-time basis, it becomes home- away-from-home. Desks are adorned with photos of family and friends, neat little gadgets that keep the workplace fun and other personal touches.

Other things to include in the pursuit of personalizing that workspace should be the appropriate chair, input devices and positioning of output devices.

Monitors

Output devices may be the last thing you think of when designing your desk area. You may never touch them, but you use your monitors more than anything else.

"A good rule for the perfect viewing level, is to keep the top line you're reading at eye-level," he described of monitor-use. "Some pains start in the neck and come from reading at a level that is too high or too low from eye level."

People who wear reading glasses should keep in mind that there may be specific distances that influence how to set up computer monitors. Equipment sold in office supply stores or old books can be used to raise monitors to their appropriate heights. It's natural to look straight ahead versus peering downward or upward to read something.

"For those of us that use bifocals or trifocals, make sure the screen is close or far away enough to use the different functions of the lenses," he said.

Input devices

Using the right equipment can prevent or eliminate some problems altogether, Franka said.

"Make sure you use a mouse that is comfortable to your hand if you're going to be using it a lot," he said. "And, don't move just the wrist when you're using your mouse, move your entire forearm and that's going to alleviate some of the problems that you're going to have, such as carpal tunnel and injuries to the wrist."

Another input device that may cause wrist pain is the keyboard. Holding your wrists just above the surface of the desk, may prevent wrist injuries. That may explain why some people use keyboard rests at their workstations.

If data input or typing is a big part of your job, then you should pay attention to how your wrists and elbows feel at the end of the day.

Chairs

Even the option of choosing a chair with armrests should be considered. Franka explained that the height at which armrests are set may affect the ability to type with ease and without injury.

Because we spend a lot of time sitting in the same position, chairs should have the correct support. Chairs nowadays offer adjustable lumbar support and are advisable because they force the worker to straighten his back while sitting.

Franka mentioned the popular use of pilates balls at work. Gaiam.com offers a Balance Ball Chair that combines the concept of a balance ball and an office chair for those who are looking to improve their posture, as well as work on core muscles, including abs and spinal alignment.

Finding a chair that is easy to get in and out of can also help to reduce the risk of injuries.

"Whether your desk is set on carpet or tile, can make a big difference," the doctor said. "A big wooden chair can be heavy and hard to get in and out of. Or if you work on slick tile, casters may pose a problem when getting up also."

Preventative measures

If making do with what you have is your only option, squeeze time into your schedule to get away from the desk. Take a short walk around the block during break time or take some of your reading material away from your desk and read it somewhere else. Getting up and being active can help prevent muscle injuries that occur from being stationary for extended periods of time.

"Just make sure you take adequate breaks, stop at least every 10 to 15 minutes and stretch out or move around a little bit. A lot of the time, you can prevent some of this from coming on," he offered. "Of course, if it gets too severe, seek medical attention. Adequate breaks and stretches usually help a lot."

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