Renee Hall, clinical supervisor of outpatient therapy at the University of South Alabama Orthopaedic Rehab Center, said that individuals who work at a desk every day are prone to muscle fatigue from overexertion, poor posture, and repetitive stress injuries.
“Our bodies aren't designed to be seated for hours at a time,” she said. “Poor, prolonged posture and sitting for long periods of time can lead to muscle fatigue, repetitive motion injuries, eye strain, irritated nerves and chronic pain issues like neck and lower back strain.”
With this in mind, Hall said there are several habits you can pick up to help avoid these issues and feel better at the end of each workday.
Hall recommends that you give your muscles a 20-second to two-minute break throughout the workday to help avoid repetitive stress injuries.
“Stop what you’re doing and change tasks so your muscles can rest, or do some stretching exercises for your arms and your back and then continue working,” she said. “I also recommend to my patients that every two hours they stand up from their chair and stretch the lower back and upper body. You can do this by standing, walking around or taking a quick break.”
According to Hall, if you work at a desk for long periods of time, you should also stretch your neck, shoulder, hands, forearms, torso and lower extremities spontaneously throughout the day.
Hall said you should also pay attention to the way you sit at your desk. By having proper posture, you can reduce stress to your body. Below are some steps you can take to ensure you are sitting properly at your workstation:
• Hands, wrists and forearms should be neutral and parallel to the floor.
• Your torso should be upright.
• Your neck and head should stay in line with your torso.
• Elbows should be close to the body when using the keyboard/mouse and bent at a 90-120 degree angle.
• Feet should rest flat on the floor or on a footrest.
• Thighs should be parallel to the floor and hips should be bent at a 90–120 degree angle.
• Your knees should be the same height as your hips with the feet slightly forward.
Hall also suggests positioning your computer monitor an arm's length away to reduce eye strain and positioning the top of the monitor at or below eye level to reduce neck strain. She said the keyboard should be positioned in such a way that keeps your arms close to your body to reduce shoulder and arm strain and at a height that allows your wrists to be neutral or straight.
According to Hall, it is easy to make your workspace ergonomically correct with a few common items.
“A rolled towel can serve as a backrest, and you can fold a towel to provide support to your wrists,” she said. Hall also recommends using an old phone book as a foot rest and moving frequently used items in front of you to avoid over-reaching.
If you are in pain when you come home from work every day, Hall said, it is recommended that you see your physician and possibly be referred to a physical or occupational therapist.
The USA Orthopaedic Rehab Center is located within the department of orthopaedic surgery. For more information, visit http://www.usahealthsystem.com/orthopaedic-rehabilitation-center.