ERGONOMICS-Preventing Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD’s)
Ergonomic: Relating to or designed for efficiency and comfort in the working environment.
Working Americans spend about 2,000 hours per year in the workplace. All of these hours can take a toll on your neck, back, arms and eyes. When the body works in a way that is not ergonomically friendly, it creates stress through awkward postures or repeated movements. Additionally, poorly designed working environments contribute to reduced efficiency, decreased production, a loss of income, increased medical claims and, in some serious cases, permanent disability.
If you sit behind a desk for hours at a time, you're not doomed to a career of back and neck pain or sore wrists and fingers. Proper office ergonomics — including correct chair height, suitable equipment spacing and good desk posture — can help you and your joints stay comfortable at work. The ultimate objective of ergonomics is to design the workplace so that it accommodates the assortment of human abilities and restrictions, in order to prevent musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are injuries or pain in the human musculoskeletal system, including the joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves, tendons, and structures that support limbs, neck and back. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, MSD’s are the single largest category of workplace injuries and are responsible for almost 30% of all workers’ compensation costs. The average MSD comes with a direct cost of almost $15,000!
Common musculoskeletal disorders include:
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
This condition occurs when one of the major nerves to the hand, the median nerve, is squeezed or compressed as it travels through the wrist. This common condition is often caused by repetitive hand motions and creates numbness, pain, and tingling in the hand and arm. Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome typically start gradually. The first signs will often include numbness or tingling in your thumb, index and middle fingers, this tingling usually comes and goes and this sensation may move to your wrist and up your arm. Many people experience weakness in the hand and have a tendency to drop things.
Tendonitis is inflammation or irritation of a tendon, the thick fibrous cords that attach muscle to bone. Tendonitis is most often caused by repetitive, minor impact on the affected area, or from a sudden more serious injury. Pain caused by tendonitis is often described as a dull ache, especially when moving the affected limb or joint. Without treatment, tendonitis can increase your risk of experiencing tendon rupture-a much more serious condition that may require surgery.
Digital neuritis in the hand is a nerve issue that results in pain and tingling in the hand and fingers. Risk factors for digital neuritis include repetitive tasks, movements, and postures, all of which may contribute to the start of symptoms of neuritis. Damage or entrapment of the median, ulnar, or radial nerve can cause abnormal sensations in the fingers, loss of coordination in the fingers, numbness, pain, tingling, and weakness or clumsiness of the hand.
Early intervention is key to preventing musculoskeletal disorders. In the typical office setting, there are four points of contact: eyes to the source (monitor), hands to input devices, feet to the floor and body to the chair.
A good chair can contribute significantly to reducing the risk of lower back pain or injury. A good ergonomic chair includes all or most of the following characteristics, not just one or two:
- Adjustable armrests
- Allows for a variety of seated postures
- Seat height adjustability
- Soft, rounded edges
- Size that fits you
- High backrest or headrest for deeply reclining postures
- Comfortable, but slip-resistant fabric
If your feet don’t reach the floor, consider using a footrest. In addition, if you have an older chair without lumbar support, try using a small pillow or towel roll to relieve pressure on your lower back. Also, remember that ergonomic features won’t help you if the chair doesn’t suit your body or sitting habits, so adjustability is important.
Mouse and Keyboard
Make sure that the weight of your arms is supported at all times. If your arms are not supported, the muscles of your neck and shoulders will be strained by the end of the day.
Place your mouse within easy reach and on the same surface as your keyboard. While typing or using your mouse, keep your wrists straight, your upper arms close to your body, and your hands at or slightly below the level of your elbows. Use keyboard shortcuts to reduce extended mouse use. If possible, adjust the sensitivity of the mouse so you can use a light touch to operate it. Alternate the hand you use to operate the mouse by moving the mouse to the other side of your keyboard. The keyboard and the mouse should be close enough to prevent excessive reaching which strains the shoulders and arms.
As with musculoskeletal disorders, one of the best ways to avoid back, neck, and shoulder injuries is to minimize continuous exertions. The following tips should help you:
- Alternate task. If possible, get up from your workstation periodically to use the phone, make copies, file paperwork, etc.
- Take several rest breaks. For many people, “microbreaks” that allow you to pause frequently are more effective than the traditional 15-minute break every two hours
- Take short breaks that involve active exercise (walking, stretching); they are often the most effective in relieving stress on the back, neck, and shoulders.
A frequent physical complaint by people who spend a lot of time in front of a monitor is eyestrain. You should rest your eyes periodically for several seconds by looking at objects at a distance to give your eyes a break.
Specialists in ergonomics have identified several problem areas and possible corrections for eyestrain, including:
- Move or shield the light source
- Move the monitor
- Change the monitor’s angle
- Apply a good quality glare filter to the monitor
Use the self-assessment checklist provided by the National Institutes of Health to ensure your workstation is set for optimal comfort and performance!
Remember: even if you have been set up for success with an ergonomic workspace and equipment, creating and maintaining good habits is ultimately up to you. Conduct self-checks of your posture throughout the day. Hold yourself accountable by setting calendar notifications to remind you to take walking and stretch breaks. Your body will thank you for it!