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Don’t let your desk become a pain in the neck

If you are sitting in front of a computer right now, take a moment to notice how your neck, back, shoulders and wrists feel. Are your muscles tight and sore from being hunched over your desk all day? Are you developing motor issues with your wrists? While hard work may pay off at the office, sitting at a desk for hours a day can wreak havoc on the body.

Ruth Gronde, an ergonomic therapist with Piedmont, demonstrates in the above photo a common work station setup that can lead to neck, shoulder, back and wrist problems.  She offers tactics you can implement to reduce  pain, while still getting all of your work completed.

Ergonomics 101

“Ergonomics is the study of work, matching a person’s environment, job and physical needs,” explains Gronde. “For people whose work is computer-intensive, we see a lot of neck, wrist, hand and elbow pain. “It is not normal to have pain from work,” she says. “If you are unable to relieve the pain from standard first aid procedures, it impacts your ability to do your job or it keeps you awake at night, you need to see your doctor.”

The proper way to sit at a desk

To combat and reduce common aches and pains associated with a desk job, Gronde offers the following checklist for setting up an ergonomically correct work station:

  • When typing, keep your arms relaxed, hands low and wrists straight. There should be space beneath your wrists and arms; don’t place them on your desk or wrist rest while you are typing. Keep your arms off of your chair’s arm rests, but feel free to rest your arms when you are taking a break from typing.
  • Avoid cocking your hands back or forward when typing: this can lead to tendonitis.
  • Adjust your chair so your back is leaning on the back of your chair and your feet are flat on the floor.
  • Your monitor should be centered directly in front of you and the top of the screen should be at eye level.
  • To determine if your monitor is close enough to you, sit in your chair and extend your arm toward your monitor. Your fingertips should touch the screen when your arm is straightened.
  • Avoid placing your monitor off to the side, which requires you to sit at an angle or twist your neck. This can cause neck and shoulder pain.
  • If you frequently make long telephone calls, invest in a hands-free option, such as a speaker phone or headset to avoid pain from resting your phone between your ear and shoulder.
  • Purchase a document holder if you frequently read papers while typing. This prevents you from looking down or to the side for an extended period of time.

“If you use a laptop at your desk for an extended period of time, hook up a separate mouse and keyboard,” says Gronde. A docking station can help prevent health issues because laptops are not ergonomically your best option.

Reducing work-related pain

“First, be sure you are facing your work and not sitting or turning at an angle,” she says. “Second, keep things you use frequently, such as documents or your stapler, close to you so you are not constantly reaching.” She also recommends taking quick stretch breaks as often as possible.

“Most work pulls our posture forward, so stretch in the opposite direction and rest your hands in your lap periodically,” says Gronde. “Stand for at least two to three minutes every hour. Walk to the printer or stand up while you talk on the phone. The key is a variety of movement throughout the day.”

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