More often than not, by the time I do an ergonomic evaluation, many people have quite extensive injuries. To avoid injuries, it is better to have an ergonomic evaluation done sooner rather than later. It is helpful to know the path of injury and when you should take action:
1. Blood flow decreases – This is a symptom that starts before you are aware you are getting injured. Blood flow starts to be restricted in the area that is being injured. For example, with a keyboard that is too high, blood flow starts to be restricted in the neck and shoulder area from hunching. Or for a person who uses the mouse a lot, blood flow will start to restrict in the hand, wrist and forearm. Ideally an ergonomic evaluation would have been done before this point to avoid the path of injury completely.
2. Pain or discomfort – Based on the examples above, you may now start to feel some discomfort in your neck and shoulders or your hand, wrist or forearm. Some discomfort may be tolerable, but pain is not a good sign. When pain occurs, many people will try and work through it. They may feel pain at work, but with rest after work and sleep, the pain goes away. But eventually, if circumstances don’t change, the pain will become constant. And then pain will become quite intolerable. You should not wait beyond the first signs of pain to have an ergonomic evaluation. It is better to rid the workstation of ergonomic risk factors so you can work efficiently and without pain. It does not help anyone to try and “work through it” because it will affect your productivity and set you up for serious injury.
3. Swelling and/or tenderness – In the example of the person who mouses a lot; the hand, wrist and/or forearm may now start to feel quite tender to the touch and there may be some swelling. Swelling indicates an injury.
4. Reduced range of motion and/or stiffness – The fingers and wrist may now become stiff due to the swelling. If not treated, the swelling will restrict full movement in the hands and wrist.
5. Numbness and/or tingling – The fingers and wrist may now become numb or a tingling “pins and needles” sensation may be felt. This is an indication that the nerves are being compressed or squeezed. It is important not to ignore an injury where numbness or tingling is felt, because nerves take a long time to heal and injury to them should be avoided at all costs.
6. Functional limitations – The fingers and wrist may now not be able to move or move well. The fingers may have reduced sensation due to nerve damage. It is likely that time off work will be needed if work cannot be performed.
To avoid time off work combined with pain and discomfort, listen to the signals your body is giving you. Discomfort, and especially pain, are not things that should be ignored. Taking quick action to nip injuries in the bud will help you avoid pain, keep you focussed on work, and keep your body functioning well.