WHY IS ERGONOMICS IMPORTANT?
Think about how many hours each day you spend sitting. If you work in an office setting, you are likely sitting more than most people. According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) statistics, on average, 95% of an office worker’s day is spent sitting in front of the computer. Sitting in front of a computer all day for work is a relatively new concept that has become more common over the past two decades. Consequently, the adverse health effects associated with prolonged sitting have become more prevalent and are exacerbated when working at a computer. This is often due to poorly designed computer workstations and the physical stress that it places on joints, muscles, tendons, and nerves of the body.
However, most of us don’t realize the harmful effects of prolonged computer use until many years later. This is because the harmful effects of using poorly designed computer workstations are NOT immediate, and the discomfort we initially feel is very mild, thus we tend to ignore them. We later assume our neck aches, back pain, headaches, and poor posture are due to getting older and “our own fault” for not exercising enough and being lazy. We fail to realize that our workstation is harming us and putting physical stress on our bodies which can eventually lead to musculoskeletal disorders.
Ergonomics and Musculoskeletal symptoms
Increased computer usage has been linked to a high prevalence of musculoskeletal symptoms in the neck and upper extremities. Office workers are frequently exposed to repetitive movement, awkward postures and manual handling tasks which are risk factors for developing musculoskeletal symptoms. They may also encounter psychosocial problems such as time pressures and stressful work. The role of psychosocial factors in the development and persistence of musculoskeletal symptoms is well recognized.
Office workers were most likely to report musculoskeletal symptoms in their spine. Workers experiencing such symptoms were more likely to rate their workstation ergonomics as poor. Office work is often associated with prolonged sitting, which has been shown to be a risk factor for neck pain. Prolonged sitting, particularly with poor workstation ergonomics, may cause prolonged static contraction of muscles; increased pressure on the intervertebral discs and tension on ligaments and muscles; decreased tissue flexibility; altered spinal curvature and weakened paravertebral muscles, and such changes may lead to, or increase the risk of, musculoskeletal injury in the spine.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT ERGONOMICS?
The harmful effects related to sitting in front of a computer all day often go unnoticed until many years later. As with most things, prevention is better than a cure. However, the problem with not understanding proper workstation ergonomics, is that you do not know what to look for. Do you notice the strain or tension in your muscle? Do you notice how you have been sitting with a slumped posture and forward head? You might simply attribute that achy discomfort to getting older. The truth is, our bodies are not designed to sit in constricted positions staring at a computer screen all day. Thus we slouch, push our heads forward, and look closely at the screen simply because it feels more comfortable that way. We are able to deal with it from day to day. Until we can’t. What was once a strain or mild ache is now pain and it can lead to huge medical bills.
By learning and applying proper ergonomics, you will minimize the risks associated with prolonged sitting at a computer workstation all day and reduce your chances of developing repetitive strain injuries, and reduce future medical expenses. In addition to better health, you will also become more effective and productive, and find working a more enjoyable experience.
KEY POINTS to keep in mind
- Musculoskeletal symptoms are common among office workers, with the highest prevalence in the spine.
- The prevalence of musculoskeletal symptoms in the head/neck, shoulders, upper back and ankles/feet iss higher in females than males.
- Apart from a higher prevalence of upper back symptoms in younger workers, age has no effect on the prevalence of musculoskeletal symptoms in most body regions.
David Menner, D.C. and Katelyn Adamek, LMT, CWC
Eat Well. Move Well. Live Well.