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Is your workspace spine-friendly? Ergonomics to reduce pain

Is your workspace spine-friendly? Ergonomics to reduce pain

Many of us will experience some form of back pain in our lifetime. Some cases are more severe than others and there are a variety of causes. A well-known trigger to back pain can be your work environment. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 195,150 cases involving work-related injuries to the back in 2009. While many of these injuries are related to lifting and pulling, some could be the result of poor posture and a lack of ergonomics in your workspace.

Take a look at your office space. Do you or your employees look comfortable? Are desks and chairs at the right height? Are you slouched in your chair or hunched over? A few small changes in the workspace can go a long way to helping you and your employees avoid excessive back and neck strain.


Do

Do use an ergonomic chair

A well-constructed ergonomic chair will help reduce fatigue and discomfort, increase your blood flow, and reduce the risk of injury to your neck and spine. Make sure your office chair has a good backrest that provides lumbar support, is not too high and you can rest your feet on the ground, can rotate and swivel, and can recline - sitting at a 100º to 110º angle is better.

Do be mindful of posture

You could have all of the latest technology and equipment, but if you’re not sitting properly, your spine will suffer. To avoid back pain, make sure to sit upright with your back and shoulders against the back of the chair. Arms should rest lightly on the armrests to avoid circulatory problems or nerve pressure. Remember to relax your shoulders while typing.

Do pay attention to desk height

Make sure your desk is stable and at a good height - 28" to 30" above the floor is suitable for most adults. You will also want it to be large enough to accommodate your computer and a separate space for writing and other tasks.

Do customize computer set-up

Where your equipment is placed can make a difference in how your back feels when you are at work. Your monitor should be directly in front of you at eye level. Try tilting the keyboard down and slightly away from you for better wrist posture. Also, having relaxed arms is important, so keep your mouse close. If using a laptop, consider getting an external monitor and/or keyboard. This will allow you to move each of these components separately to create a comfortable arrangement.

Do take breaks

Taking occasional spine breaks can help you avoid excessive strain. Stretch, take a short walk, get the blood flowing.


Don't

Do not hold the phone between your ear and neck

This is a bad habit of which many people are guilty. Holding the phone between your ear and neck tenses the muscles and can lead to severe neck pain. A simple solution is to use a hands-free headset.

Do not slouch

When the spine is in alignment, it is supported and stable. When you sit in a slouched position for an extended period of time, then you are increasing the likelihood of long-term issues including weakened muscles, compressed nerves and disc herniations. This all can lead to pain. Poor posture can be reversed if caught soon enough. Strengthening and stretching exercises will also help.

Do not cross your legs

Keep your feet flat on the floor and your back and neck will thank you. Crossing your legs can lead to pinched nerves, disc issues, headaches and pain in your neck and back. The position puts your pelvis out of alignment, which can lead to long-term problems.

Do not sit still

When you are at your desk, avoid staying in one position for a long time. Try switching between sitting and standing. Prolonged sitting can cause shortening of the hip flexor muscle, which increases symptoms of spinal stenosis and causes patients to stand and walk in a more bent forward position. Excessive sitting has also shown to increase obesity and cardiovascular disease.


Summary
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We can’t always prevent injuries and accidents in the workplace, but reducing some of the risk factors can certainly help. Protecting your spine when you can will help keep you and your employees happy and healthy on the job.


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Fred Sweet, MDOrthopedic Spine Surgeon

Dr. Sweet co-founded Rockford Spine Center in Rockford, IL in 2003 with a goal of creating a national center of excellence in spinal surgery. Dr. Sweet treats patients with a range of conditions, but is known for his expertise in handling the mo...

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