Office Ergonomics – How to Mitigate and Alleviate Pain
For many office workers, pain is just a fact of life. They might chalk it up to the bad chairs, the repetitive movements, or even the natural aging process, but the fact is that many office workers could see concrete improvements in their pain levels with just a few simple changes. Office ergonomics is often thought of as outfitting the workplace with specially designed equipment – and that can be part of it – but there are also some practical strategies that can make a difference.
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Is Working in an Office Really That Dangerous?
Accurately describing the risk of injury in an office setting can quickly start to sound like over-dramatizing. After all, it isn’t as if office workers are handling hazardous chemicals or power tools on a daily basis. If you look at their Total Recordable Injury Frequency (TRIF) rate, it’s fairly low.
But what about all the injuries that don’t get included in the TRIF rate? A disabling injury that happens after tripping on electrical cords may warrant an incident report, but a slowly developing case of chronic back pain is more likely to get overlooked. Many office-related injuries happen over time, and if the workplace culture emphasizes keeping a stiff upper lip instead of seeking reasonable assistance, this can result in a lot of needless injuries that never really get addressed.
You’ll Probably Need to Do More Than Get a New Office Chair
For some people, the problem can be solved with a chair that offers better lumbar support, or maybe just by using better posture in general. For most, however, the issue requires a more comprehensive approach.
What could this look like? For a start, office workers could ask that certain key items (such as their keyboard, mouse, or chair) be replaced with more ergonomically designed alternatives. They could also start implementing targeted stretches, short walks, or other simple exercises into their daily routine.
This doesn’t even have to cut into the time they spend working; as little as one minute of stretching every couple of hours can make a difference. Whatever type of pain an office worker is experiencing, it was probably caused by several different factors – which is why they shouldn’t rely on a single solution to fix it.
How to Stop Back Pain with Office Ergonomics– Or at Least Mitigate It
Employees who aren’t experiencing chronic pain should focus on prevention, while those who’ve already developed the condition should concentrate on mitigation. Either way, here are some practical ways to address any type of temporary or reoccurring pain that happens as a result of working in an office setting:
- Be aware of your posture – Whether you’re sitting down, lifting heavy boxes, or answering the phone, try to keep your spine correctly positioned, and avoid awkward movements that create unnecessary strain.
- Make your workspace more ergonomic – This could mean rearranging your desk so that everything is within easier reach, or getting ergonomic equipment to lessen the strain on your back, wrist, eyes, etc. Even though ergonomic equipment can save money in the long run thanks to fewer injuries, less time away at doctor’s visits, and so on, it could be a hard sell to convince an employer to renovate everyone’s workspaces with more expensive equipment. However, measures like positioning the computer monitor at a more natural angle, using a small pillow for lumbar support, or rearranging the workspace can still have a measurable effect.
- Incorporate targeted stretches – Whichever joint or muscle group is the source of the pain, there are targeted stretches that could help. Most of them can easily be done in a cubicle, and only take a minute or two to complete. By doing these stretches throughout the day, an office worker may be able to reduce their normal pain levels.
- Know what triggers pain – Some employees will be able to point to a single incident that caused their pain, such as a fall that resulted in an injury. For others, the answer won’t be quite as simple…until they start paying attention. Does it get worse after extended periods of sitting, or when they hold the phone between their head and shoulder? Does it seem to be triggered by using a mouse, or after staring at a screen for too long? In order to address the source of the pain, first you have to identify it.
Popular Office Ergonomics Equipment
Since so much of the pain experienced by office workers is caused by poorly designed equipment, that’s a great place to start. Even if it isn’t possible to outfit the entire office with the latest and greatest in office ergonomics, a few simple changes can still make a difference.
- An ergonomic office chair – Proper lumber support can make a huge difference for someone who spends most of their day sitting.
- An ergonomic mouse – The average mouse focuses on what’s happening on the computer end of things; an ergonomic mouse also takes ease of use into account by allowing a more natural hand position.
- An ergonomic keyboard – Whether it’s a standalone keyboard, or part of a laptop, it probably doesn’t allow the hands to rest at a natural angle. An ergonomic keyboard, on the other hand, is flatter and often V-shaped, meaning the hands and wrists can be more relaxed.
- A document holder – Instead of having to twist their necks or hunch over as they look at documents, employees can use a document holder to maintain files in more central position.
- A laptop stand or monitor arm – Just like with documents, screens are often at unnatural angles that can strain the eyes, neck, or back. If the screen’s angle or position can be freely adjusted, this can remove the cause of the pain.
Does Your Office Space Need an Ergonomic Makeover?
Improving office ergonomics may be an effective way to not just address pain, but also to remove the source of the pain. With a few common-sense strategies in your arsenal, you’ll hopefully be able to figure out what’s causing the problem, as well as what’s needed to fix it.