Everyday Ergonomics for Neck & Back Pain

Ergonomics: Saving The Working World One Bad Back At A Time

Ergonomics is a term that we hear a lot about these days. As more and more people spend their workday sitting at a desk, we pay increasing attention to how chairs, desks, computers, and pieces of office equipment are engineered.

Upward of 80% of the American workforce spends 8 to 11 hours a day working from a desk. The detrimental health effects of this are just becoming apparent.  Weight gain, circulatory issues, and orthopedic conditions are on the rise for this type of worker. However, neck and back pain are the two most common sources of work-related health complaints.

Over time, an unprotected neck or back in the workplace can lead to a variety of forms of spinal degeneration. These forms of deterioration include bone spurs, degenerative disc disease, and osteoarthritis—just to name just a few!

What is Ergonomics? The Useful & Bizarre(ly Useful)

OSHA (the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration) defines ergonomics as “the study of work.” On the subject of ergonomics, OSHA elaborates that ergonomics ensures that the job is the designed for the worker—and not the other way around. Effectively executed, ergonomics promotes productivity and avoids dangerous situations or the development of health issues.

Studies conducted by OSHA on ergonomics have led to advances in office furniture, with ergonomic chairs, standing desks, adjustable tabletops, and even treadmill desks gaining in popularity. Yes! You heard that right—a treadmill connected to your desk that allows you to walk throughout the workday. Ergonomic specialists have even designed a tiny device that you can wear on your upper back that will let you know when you’re starting to hunch over. So, these days, even your posture can be improved with digital technology!

Are office workers the only people who need ergonomics?

All of these ergonomically conscious office gadgets are designed to keep you from craning your neck while looking at your computer screen, hunching over your laptop, or straining your shoulders to reach that keyboard. And, they have provided much relief to many.

But, let’s also not be exclusive here.

Not all of us work a job that requires sitting at a desk all day, every day. Many of us drive around for a living delivering the millions of amazon boxes that prime customers order each day. Others of us drive a big-rig or make the bucks as an Uber/Lyft driver. Construction is still going strong. And, healthcare workers spend much of their days lifting patients, pushing around heavy medical devices, and stooping over hospital beds. Some of us don’t work in the formal sense at all. (Even if being a stay-at-home mom or dad should definitely be considered a full-time job!). But we still find ourselves needing adjustments in our daily lives to avoid the painful neck and back problems that can emerge from our repetitive, everyday activities.

 man conquers back pain with ergonomics

Everyday Ergonomic Tips for the Work Week—and Beyond!

The following ergonomic tips can help you get through the work week—and beyond!—with significantly diminished pain:

  • Sitting at a desk: In office ergonomics, you will find that 90 degree or right angles come up often. For example, experts recommend that you set your desk and chair at heights that allow your elbows to bend at 90 degree angles to reach the keyboard. Your hips should bend at a 90 degree angle with your torso straight and your feet flat on the floor. This may take some finagling. You may need to place a cushion on your seat to raise your body up to the appropriate height. Or, you may need to purchase a footrest to ensure that your feet rest flatly on the floor. Additionally, adjust your computer screen to be level with your eyes. Your computer should also be positioned at a safe reading distance to avoid neck strain.
  • Lifting & Carrying: Lifting objects from the floor is a main contributor to the back injury census. Many of us have heard the mantra: “Lift from the legs, not from the back.” Make sure you bend your knees deeply, leaving the back and arms straight when grabbing the object. To lift, straighten those legs, and carry the item with relaxed shoulders and straight arms, letting the object rest firmly against your body.  To set the object down, reverse the process. Your nose and toes should always be facing the same direction, so don’t twist and turn while lifting or carrying.
  • Overhead Work: Working overhead, such as painting walls or installing drop ceilings or electrical wiring, can result in short-term inflammation or long-term damage. The key to avoiding this damage is to set up your work environment to avoid as much strain as possible. This may involve using sturdy ladders or scaffolding to get closer to the targeted area. In some long-term situations, laying down on a scaffold to work on a ceiling may be a good idea. Taking regular breaks and stretching the neck and back are beneficial in counteracting the effects of overhead work.
  • Driving: Driving, like sitting, requires some special setup to avoid injury. Adjust your seat height to make sure your knees and hips are in a straight line, parallel to the ground. Make sure your feet can fully rest on the gas and brake pedals without having to move forward in your seat to do so. Adjust your steering wheel so that your shoulders are relaxed and you are not reaching up or down for the wheel.

The topic of ergonomics is startlingly vast. Although the tips presented above are useful strategies for beginners, a physical therapist, chiropractor, or orthopedic surgeon can prescribe ergonomic interventions that are customized to reduce your neck and back pain. For personalized relief strategies and fitted equipment, please see your healthcare provider or orthopedist for a consultation.

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