The monitor should always be placed directly in front of you. Even if it’s a couple of inches off to the right or left, it can be aggravating to your neck, shoulders, and upper back. That’s because it’s an awkward posture risk factor that places the neck out of neutral range (see Risk Factors: Awkward Postures post). Some people contend that they need to keyboard while talking to a person across from their desk or counter and that the monitor is in the way. If this is the case, move the monitor to the side when working with people, and move it back when you are working on your own. With the lighter flat screen monitors, this shouldn’t be too taxing, but if it is, a rolling monitor stand may be helpful.
Many people wonder if exercise balls/physioballs/Swiss balls are good for sitting on at the office during the day. My recommendation is to only use them sporadically. Studies have shown that sitting on balls continuously without proper back support places excessive pressure on the musculature of the trunk. Research has also documented increased compression to the spine and intervertebral discs. Use of the trunk muscles during the day can be helpful and for this the ball could be used for 10 minutes every hour. But overusing the trunk muscles leads to fatigue and possible muscle strain so a proper ergonomic office chair should be used for the majority of the time.
At this time of year particularly, many people are busier at work than usual preparing for year-end or preparing for the holiday season. This usually results in risk factors such as longer hours, less or shorter breaks, poorer food choices, and more stress-related tension. These risk factors on their own or combined can leave a person tired, irritated and in danger of developing aches and pains. At this time of year it is even more important to remember key ergonomic principles:
- Take 5-minute breaks every hour or 15-min breaks every 3 hours;
- Never skip your lunch break and have a healthy lunch that includes vegetables and whole grains;
- Be aware of your body and do a body scan every hour at least. Check for tension areas – across the forehead, at the base of the skull, the tops of the shoulders, and anywhere along your back. Relax your body and take a deep breath to dispel tension;
- Try not to drop your regular exercise, stretching, or yoga routine. This will keep your body flexible, strong, and less prone to discomfort at work.
If you take the time now to implement these ergonomic principles, you will save more time in the future and be more efficient than you would with an injury. Small changes now prevent larger problems later!
If laptops are ergonomically un-friendly, then Blackberrys border on enemy status. But you can try a few tips that may reduce your risk for “Blackberry Thumb” (a repetitive strain injury caused by repetitive use of the thumbs):
- Use the Blackberry to primarily view emails; try to respond using your regular computer or limit your response to one or two sentences;
- Use the stylus or rubber end of a pencil instead of your thumbs to type on the Blackberry;
- Try to use the Blackberry trackball with your left thumb to give your right thumb a break;
- Limit use of Blackberry to 15 minutes a day or at least 15 minutes per session;
- Alternate using Blackberry with doing other tasks.
Contact stress occurs when a part of your body rests against something, resulting in discomfort and/or pain. For example, when typing, if your wrist rests against the desk, this is considered to be contact stress. Many tendons, nerves, and blood vessels run through the wrist and when you compress these tissues against a surface, it results in less blood supply, possible impairment to nerve conduction, and potential harm to tendons. Another example would be a telephone headset that fits too tightly resulting in contact stress to the head. This may trigger a headache from reduced blood supply and tissue compression.
Do a self body scan when you are working. Are there any areas of your body that frequently rest again a hard surface? If so, make changes to eliminate the contact stress. If you can’t eliminate it, try to make it less. For example, resting your wrist against the top edge of the desk is worse than resting it directly on the desk. The edge of the desk is sharp and provides greater contact stress. The best solution is to lower the desk or use a keyboard and mouse tray so you don’t have to rest your wrists, but in a pinch, you could pad the desk edge or move your keyboard to the edge of the desk so there is nowhere for the wrist to rest. People who use tools with sharp edges on the handles could also pad their handles, as long as the grip diameter doesn’t increase too much.