I once did an evaluation with a client who was having neck and shoulder pain in her office administration job. At the completion of the assessment, we discussed what type of equipment might be best for her, such as a keyboard tray and a document holder. We also spoke at length about her posture and how it could be improved; about her work habits and how she could be better about rest breaks; about her work procedures and how she needs to relax her neck and shoulders while typing; and about her leisure time and how she could avoid activities in her daily life that were affecting her neck and shoulders (e.g. using the computer at night after using it all day). When I contacted her a few weeks later to see how she was doing and if she had received her equipment yet, she responded that based on changing her posture, her work habits, her work procedures, and daily activities; she felt much better and did not feel she even needed the equipment recommended for her.
I always think of this client when I go over “training” with other clients in office environments. Training is a good catch-all term for all the things I mentioned above plus other things such as exercise, nutrition, and stress reduction techniques. Here is a list of my top 10 training tips for office work:
- Alternate tasks throughout the day – If you can, break up your computer work with other tasks such as attending meetings or reading. If you only do computer work, be vigilant about taking breaks.
- Have good posture – Feet flat on the ground; legs, hips, and elbows at 90 degrees of flexion; elbows close to your torso; wrists straight; shoulders pulled back and relaxed; and head lined up over neck. Be like a puppet – imagine a string at the top of your head pulling you up to the ceiling. Everything will fall into place perfectly.
- Change position frequently – Use the good posture described above, but let’s face it, you won’t be able to maintain that posture all day, nor should you. Your body needs movement and different postures. So sometimes you will slouch and lean forward, and that’s okay for a bit. Just remember to come back to your good posture more often than not. And don’t forget to move around in your chair – that helps too.
- Get up – Get up often and walk – every hour at minimum. Set a timer so you won’t forget. Stretch and move your arms, wrists, and hands at the same time. At the very least, stand at your desk and get your blood moving.
- Relax your shoulders – Everyone has the tendency to hunch their shoulders when working at the computer, especially when they’re on a deadline. Practice relaxing your shoulders as much as possible. Try this: Hunch your shoulders up as high as they will go while inhaling. Hold your breath and your shoulders for three seconds. Relax your shoulders as much as you can and breathe out deeply. You will feel a difference immediately.
- Relax your arms – Don’t extend your arms at all when you are typing. Keep your elbows close to your sides and let your upper arm hang loosely from your shoulder socket. A good way to accomplish this is to pull your chair close to the desk while typing.
- Reduce overtime hours – Your body was not meant to be a computer all day. It will rebel in the form of discomfort and possibly injuries. Try not to work more than an 8-hour day to reduce your risk of injury. If you must work longer, take 5-minute breaks every hour and a 30-minute break every four hours. Your body will thank you.
- Don’t hover – Try not to hover your hands over your keyboard or mouse. When you are not typing or mousing, put your hands in your lap or do light exercises with them. A good exercise is letting your hands fall to your sides and lightly make fists in and out while you are reading your computer screen.
- Eat and drink – Eat small nutritious snacks or meals every 3-4 hours to maintain your blood sugar at a good level. Sip water throughout the day to keep hydrated. Without proper fuel, your body will become sluggish.
- Beat stress – Every so often, sit back in your chair and regroup. Close your eyes and take three big, deep breaths and gain focus and perspective on your work. Feel a sense of power and control over your work and your working habits. Know that you are only one person and can only do so much. Be happy with what you are doing.
Implementing these tips and practicing them often is like training for a marathon. If you run often, run well with good posture, take breaks, and eat and drink well; you will achieve your goal. Training is essential – never overlook it. Good luck!