One of the most important changes you can make to improve your comfort at work is to move and change posture as much as possible throughout the day (see Risk Factors: Static Posture post) But does that mean you need a sit-stand workstation? Sit-stand workstations are height-adjustable desks that move up or down either manually with a crank or with a button if it’s electrically powered. When you are sitting you leave it at a lower height and raise it for when you want to change to standing. According to an recent article in the Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (Vol. 51, No. 3, 310-320 (2009); “musculoskeletal complaints were reduced by a sit-stand workstation paradigm”. Cornell University reports that general evidence seems to show a reduction of back discomfort with sit-stand workstations, but caution that adequate studies with proper comparison groups has not been done and there is little evidence to show cost-effectiveness.
My experience has shown that individuals with severe back pain can benefit from a sit-stand workstation. But on average, changing position throughout the day seems to be the most effective way to reduce discomfort. So for workers who stand all day, taking frequent breaks to sit and altering standing position (putting one foot up on a 6-8” high support, shifting from one leg to another) works well. And for workers who sit all day – getting up to talk to a colleague, using the restroom, going to the printer, getting a drink of water – all seem to help in reducing aches and pains.
Neck pain is one of the most common ailments in the workplace. The ergonomic risk factors of repetition, awkward posture, and static posture are the most likely culprits. First off a bit of neck anatomy: The trapezius is a large diamond-shaped muscle that connects the top of the neck and the vertebrae to the collarbones and shoulder blades. Most neck pain can be attributed to a part of the trapezius – pain and pressure at the base of the skull, pain in the tops of the shoulders close to the neck, pain in the upper back and pain in the middle back often at the lowest point of the trapezius. Neck pain can also be attributed to problems with the vertebrae, discs, and nerves of the neck. These types of problems are usually more serious and need medical attention, especially if the neck pain is sharp and does not lessen. Muscle related neck pain can usually be alleviated by changing a few things:
- Watch your neck posture – Pretend there is a string on top of your head like a puppet. Sit up straight and lengthen your neck upwards as though someone was pulling the string from above. This will correct static, awkward postures.
- As described in the previous post, use a copy stand, clip, or document holder if you enter a lot of data. This will lessen repetitive motion of the neck.
- Avoid using a laptop or Blackberry – Use a monitor located at the proper height (see Monitor Height post). This will lessen neck flexion.
- Place your monitor directly in front of you to correct awkward postures from looking to the right or left.
- Avoid cradling the phone between your neck and shoulder.
- Keep an eye on your stress level – Often when people are stressed, they hunch up their shoulders and try to work faster. This unfortunately does not allow you to work faster and will leave you with neck and shoulder pain. Take a deep breath and relax your shoulders on the exhale every 15 minutes.
- Consider your occupation – If you are a painter, you look up on a frequent basis with your neck in extension. Take breaks frequently and let your head hang to your chest to reverse the effects of the neck extension. If you are a forklift driver or a construction vehicle operator, you will often rotate your head to look behind you. Try to avoid this by using mirrors or by twisting from the waist on occasion to give your neck a break.
In all circumstances, watch and observe what things feel good for your neck and what don’t. Try not to push past neck pain and force postures that are unnatural. Treat your neck right!
Copy Stands – These are stands placed on the desk on either side of the monitor as close to the screen as possible. Use these when you are entering data without the need to write on the hard copy. Copy stands are best for books as it is unlikely that a copy clip will hold the weight of a book. Copy stands should always have an adjustable slant.
Copy Clips – These are clips that clip onto the top of your monitor on the left or right side depending on your preference. These are ergonomically ideal as they bring the hard copy the closest to the screen reducing the need for head and neck repetitive motion. But because they only hold a few pieces of paper at a time, you are limited to data entry of this nature.
Document Holders – These are larger holders that sit directly in front of you between your screen and your keyboard. These are used when you have the need to write on the hard copy periodically while typing and are also good for heavy books. Document holders still cause some neck flexion, but they are preferable to leaving the hard copy directly on the desk. As with copy stands, document holders must have an adjustable slant to ensure proper position of the hard copy for the least possible neck flexion.
When you type from hard copy into the computer, i.e. data entry, you should use some sort of copy stand, clip or document holder. When the paper you are typing from is lying flat on the desk beside the monitor, you need to rotate your head and flex your neck to read it. Then when you look back at the screen, you need to rotate and straighten your neck. Depending on how good of a typist you are, this can happen quite frequently and for most people would be considered repetitive motion (See Risk Factors: Repetition – 09/10/20) This can result in head, neck, and shoulder discomfort if done on a regular basis. As to which one to use – copy stand, clip or document holder – stay tuned until the next post…
It is important to make sure you always have enough leg clearance when working at a desk or counter. Many people I evaluate have boxes, bags, garbage bins, etc. underneath their desks. When these items block leg clearance, people tend to twist in their chairs to avoid the obstructions. This results in awkward postures all through the body and can cause pain and discomfort. Also, not being able to stretch out your legs completely can result in cramping and leg fatigue due to lack of adequate blood supply. Move all obstructions and you will work with greater ease and comfort.