Self-help to make your body happier

By John Leung, RMT/Acupuncturist

Ergonomics in the workplace

In our busy stressful lives, when we encounter issues with our bodies we reach too quickly for a fix. We grab medication to decrease the symptoms so that we can keep going although the root or cause of the problem is still present. It can be as simple as a bad habit with everyday living, basically work, sleep or play.

Work environment

Making sure that your computer and desk are setup properly can be a huge relief on the physical stress on your body. Long hours are spent at our computers. Improper setup means added stress on our muscles and body leading to bad posture, repetitive strain injuries like Tendonitis, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS), Frozen Shoulder, low back pain, Sciatica nerve pain or shortened muscles with Trigger points (knots) which cause pain at the site or refer to another areas, like some headaches.

Proper setup

First, the chair and desk relationship has to be correct. When your hands are at the keyboard, your upper arms should be straight down along your sides with elbows bent at 90 degrees. In this position, your elbows must not be pointing outwards (don’t use armrests, chairs are wide and you have to reach for them) and your shoulders must be down and relaxed. If either is happening, the chair is too low. Raise the chair to the proper height.  Having raised shoulders or working with elbows pointing outwards, shortens neck and shoulder muscles which can lead to TOS gives you numb, tingling hands. This can also occur when sleeping with your arms up. Another contributor can be the use a shoulder bag because you have to raise your shoulder to keep it on (worst in the winter because of the thick coat). If you have to raise the chair height, a footrest might be needed. The mouse should be on the same level as the keyboard and right beside it. Do not reach for the mouse because your upper back will get stressed. Try keeping your wrists straight. A gel wrist pad for keyboard or mouse will help.

Once the chair and desk heights are properly set, the monitor height has to be set. More than likely, your monitor is too low. You have to look downwards at the screen. As the day progresses, you start to tilt your head down instead of just looking down. Some people slowly slide down their chair onto their sacrum and reach for the keyboard and mouse. Your body will take on the incorrect posture. When looking down, the muscles in your neck and back get fatigued trying to hold you in that position. The muscles tighten to protect itself and over time the muscles will shorten and form Trigger points (pain points). You end up with bad posture, pain, reduced range of motion with joints, especially the neck and shoulder. Headaches, concentration and stress levels change plus other problems can occur.

The only time you do not raise the monitor is if you wear bifocals. Raising the monitor would cause you to tilt your head back to align the proper vision. Find the proper height by having your head in a neutral position and see where the monitor lines up comfortably in focus. With transitional glasses, find the proper height and distance with your head in a neutral position.

Check your workstation periodically because things shift or chairs drop. Other things that might help in the workplace is making sure that you are drinking lots fluids, whether it’s water, teas, juices (watered down is better because of all the sugar). Have a large mug or glass on your desk and try to refill it at lease a couple of times during the day. Trips to refill the vessel or to the washroom may be required more frequently but it also gets you up using your muscles and moving your joints.

By addressing the condition of your body from the improper setup your body should be feel less physically stressed. A trained massage therapist/acupuncturist can help decrease any pain, loosen knots and tight muscles and also educate you on various strengthening/stretching exercises to rebalance your body.

Once you are felling better, it’s a matter of daily self-awareness with your posture and going through the exercises that your therapist has given you, monthly tune-ups and advice are all you need and you end up feeling like a million dollars.