Ow! Work is a Pain!

By now, most employers know it is more cost efficient to buy adjustable workstations and office chairs than it is to pay for workers’ compensation claims for repetitive motion injuries. Unfortunately, if you are small like me, or really, really tall like my friend Tom, you know that one-size-fits-all office furniture can be a real pain. The key word here is adjustable. The more options you have for adjusting office furniture, the easier it will be to find the right working height for you.

Like I’ve mentioned, I’m really small, so it took me awhile to find the right workstation and office chair for my at-home office. But it was worth the extra time it took. My chair allows my thighs to be parallel to the floor with my feet flat on a foot rest. The chair bottom is long enough to support my legs and to allow them to hang at a 90 degree angle. My arms are also pretty much at a right angle to the keyboard. I’m still working on getting the top of my computer screen at about eye level, but it is pretty good for now. I also try to use task lighting instead of overhead lighting to minimize glare. I finally decided to move my workstation away from the windows for that reason, and it is actually cooler during the day too.

I find it difficult when I am immersed in a project to take breaks and look away from the screen, but I know when I haven’t been doing these things, because everything starts to hurt. My eyes get tired. Incorrect keyboard and chair height can lead to back, arm, wrist and finger pain. Tendons swell, get inflamed and take several days to heal. It’s amazing how one little wrong adjustment can make you miserable and keep you in pain indefinitely.

Not all of us who work from home work at a workstation, either. Improper form and height isn’t such a big deal when you are sitting on the floor, a couch, the beach or at a cafe table for a couple of hours. But try working at these same places for hours on end with few breaks, and the same kinds of pain can occur.

Some things to help:

Get up and take a break every hour or two. This gives your eyes a rest and gets the blood flowing.

Use an arm pillow (called a husband in some parts of the US – click here for pic) if you are sitting on the floor, a bed or a couch. It is a large pillow with side arms that will support your weight when you lean back on it.

Place a foot rest under your feet if you cannot adjust the chair and keyboard so that your arms and legs are parallel to the floor.

Try a wrist rest, but do not allow your wrists to remain on it while typing. Only use it for quick breaks. Studies have shown that actually resting your wrists on the rest while typing can actually exacerbate carpal tunnel problems.

Make sure you are not resting your elbows on the chair arms or picking up your shoulders while you type. Both of these things can cause nerve impingement at the elbows and at the thoracic outlet where the nerves run under the collar bones.

When you accept a new job, ask to see where you will work. Make sure the office furniture is adjustable and request whatever you think you will need to keep your work free from pain. Adjust your equipment before you start working.

Reconfigure your desk area so that the things you use most often are within reach. For example, straining to reach a phone on the far corner of your desk puts wear and tear on your body as well.

Check out classes in Alexander or Feldenkreiss techniques. Both deal with learning strain-free body movements.

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