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Health & Fitness

Designing office spaces to keep employees fit

back pain
An employee suffering from back pain in office. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH 

Ergonomics … literally means designing the job to fit the worker, instead of forcing one to fit the job.

How does this even need to be a concern? Reports on computer use indicate that headache, mid-back tension, shoulder tension, forearm, wrist and low back complaints are commonly caused by monitor height not ideal, extended reach to keyboard or mouse, keyboard and mouse too high, clawing of the scroll wheel using a mouse, awkward posture during typing and unsupported feet or chair not adjusted to fit your back.

Ideally, you are supposed to work all day long without feeling discomfort, stress or pain at the end of the day.

The fit between yourself and what you do, the objects and work environment determine how comfortable you will be in your office. If a good fit is achieved, the stresses of discomfort and musculature related pain can be reduced. You become comfortable, do things efficiently and productively without discomfort.

There are two basic categories of factors an employer and employee need to consider, the environmental conditions that we are exposed to, our physical surrounding and stressors, which entail the type of activity we are doing and how it affects our body.

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Environmental factors do affect our senses … sight, hearing, smell. Just as with any other aspect of life, excessive exposure to these factors can cause damage to your body. Some, like sick building syndrome — poor ventilation and off-gassing of materials, among others — are a little complicated because we can’t always identify the problem. Even so, there are things we can do to make our environment healthier.

Physical stressors, on the other hand, include improper lifting that can cause strain on your back, pulled muscles or slipped disc. Repetitive movements, awkward postures or sustained posture and even contact stress that lead to discomfort, which results in musculoskeletal disorders (ailments of muscles, joints and its structures).

In office work specifically millions of people sustain injuries caused by physical stressors referred to as ‘cumulative trauma disorders’ (CTDs) or ‘repetitive strain injuries’ (RSIs).

Cumulatively, they occur gradually.

The majority of CTDs are caused by repetitive motions that would not result in injury if only performed once such as thousands of keystrokes typing, hours of filling day after day, stamping dozens of papers, frequent lifting and repetitive motions with a computer mouse.

Contact stress in the office is basically pressure on the body by a hard edge surface, which can reduce circulation and obstruct nerve signals leading to swelling, tingling or discomfort.

Awkward sustained postures: During office work, there are many ways you position yourself in the office to use your computer that isn’t the ideal way, it ends up distorting your S-shaped spine. Such sustained postures are reasons why 50 percent of office workers experience back pain once a year and 50 to 85 percent of those who experience neck pain report symptoms within one-five years. So how are you supposed to adjust your office to avoid back, neck pain and other muscular related disorders? These guidelines will help you to adjust your workstation, just focus on four areas — body to chair contact, feet to floor contact, hands to the mouse, keyboard and eyes to screen.

Body to chair contact: To be able to adjust your chair in your office you need to:

•Move your chair away from your desk first.

•Adjust the seat height so that your feet feel comfortable on the floor.

•Raise or lower the back support to fit in the curve of your back. You would either adjust the entire backrest.

•Adjust the armrests by lowering one armrest completely, bend elbow to 90 degrees.

•Raise that armrest to hold the forearm in the 90-degree position, without pushing your shoulders up.

•You can now level the other side with above as reference point.

Feet to floor contact: If your feet are unsupported, lower your seat height then lower your keyboard or mouse or you can use a footrest made locally or the ones in the market but ensure they are not more than two-inch height level.

This may be of need because without ideal support for your feet, your body will adjust itself and this may lead to lower back discomfort.

Hands to mouse and keyboard: Keyboard and mouse should be located on the same level and elbows should be 90 degrees. Armrests will allow relaxed shoulders and the keyboard and mouse are close to you.

Also, ensure you keep it neutral keep wrists flat. Don’t angle wrists back. If at all you are using a wrist rest, avoid wrist resting on the wrist rest to avoid putting pressure. With wrist free without pressure meaty part of the hand rests with no pressure on the nerve in this case you are using your palm support.

Eyes to screen: Your monitor should be directly in front of you. The centre of the monitor should be in line with your body with your arm length distance from your eyes to the monitor screen.

After following guidelines step by step you will then be able a achieve a correct sitting posture in your office.

The writer is a physical therapist, C&P Health Centre

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