Many people do not realize that the pain they may be experiencing each day could be alleviated by making some basic changes to the ergonomics of their lives. Ergonomics is the science of efficiencies in the work place. More specifically it is finding the most efficient way to work and included in this study is also the proper way to work to avoid injury. Applying ergonomics to your everyday life will help you avoid repetitive stress injury as well as injuries from lifting and moving improperly.
The average person travels just under an hour to and from work. A few basic adjustments to how you travel will help you avoid back pain, the second most common reason for people missing work:
- Public Transit: When using public transit you can be faced with a lot of walking, waiting and standing. It is important to have the proper shoes. Cue the scene from the movie Working Girl where career women en masse walk the streets of New York dressed in top quality business suits with comfortable runners and white socks on their way to the office. That is the right way to travel. Men can consider inserts for added support to dress shoes. Make sure you are always holding on to handrails up and down stairs leading to and from subways and bus platforms as well as when standing on buses, subways and streetcars. Proper balance helps avoid back strain and accidents.
- Highway Commute: Drivers should try to maintain proper posture while driving which means firmly placing your back against your car seat. The base of your spine should be touching the back of the seat and you can place a rolled towel at the base of your spine for added support. If you have a head rest adjust it so you can rest your head against it for added support and comfort.
If you have a desk job use the following techniques to experience less stress to your body:
- Sit with your feet positioned flat on the floor
- Have your monitor positioned at a 15 degree angle at eye level and one arm’s length away for less strain on your neck
- Keep your lower back supported
- Keep hands and forearms out straight towards your keyboard
Standing at Work
If you work in a warehouse, retail or other jobs that require standing, you should always stand in the “neutral position”. The key is to be relaxed as follows:
- Neck aligned with spine
- Shoulders relaxed not forward or back
- Elbows close to torso at a slight angle
- Forearms held with thumbs up
- S shaped spine
- Wrists aligned with forearms
- Fingers together and curved
- Slight bending at hips and knees
When lifting follow these standard rules:
- Bend at the knees
- Centre the load
- Arms and elbows tucked in
- Lift with your legs
- Keep the item close to your body
- Don’t twist from the waist, instead start with your feet
Sticking to the basic rules of ergonomics will lessen strain on your body and help avoid injury.
You’ve been there. You walk out of the office feeling as if you might not live to see another day. In spite of feeling fresh and energized when you started your day, you might notice that by the late afternoon you are exhausted, sluggish, sore or nauseous. You don’t skip meals, you try to get a good night’s sleep and you don’t smoke or drink excessively. So what gives?
Some of the most common cause-and-effect health factors could be to blame. You might not see the harm you’re doing to your wellbeing and energy levels with every day habits. See if any of these behaviours could be taking a toll on your health or mood during the weekdays.
#1. Caffeine crashes: If you’re overindulging in coffee as a way to stay awake and alert, you might wind up feeling tired and lethargic. When you consume caffeine, it stimulates your adrenal glands. Adrenalin produces the boost in energy that you experience after enjoying your coffee-likely first thing in the morning. The caffeine also causes a slight increase in dopamine levels. When these effects wear off however- usually right in the middle of your work day- you might notice a marked drop in your energy and mood.
#2. Low blood sugar: When you’re working a full day, even if you’re seated for most of it, you need to properly fuel your body. Drops in your blood sugar could be making you feel tired, irritable, light-headed and unfocused. Try to remain very conscious of the nutritional quality of what you eat, and ensure that you get enough protein. You probably know by now that if you reach for something sugary as a pick-me-up, you won’t feel full for a sustained period of time. But beware- sugary doesn’t just mean candy. Take a hard look at your snacks- granola bars, juice cocktails, crackers and cereals can be very high in sugar. These simple carbohydrates won’t keep you full for long or provide you with any real nutritional value. Instead, opt for a high-impact snack that is low in sugar and contains protein and healthy fats. You might also try breaking up your munchies into several small meals throughout the day. This way you avoid the extremes of feeling drowsy or uncomfortably full after a large lunch, or experiencing a dip in your blood sugar mid-afternoon.
#3. Misunderstanding your sleep needs: Not everyone’s optimal night’s sleep is 8 hours. Many people require more, and others need less. Quality counts too. If you go to bed at 11 but keep the television on and drift in and out of consciousness for an hour, you aren’t benefiting in the same way as you would if you’d slept soundly for that same time period. Unplugging fully and getting the requisite number of z’s can be difficult, but when you make it a priority, you’ll notice the difference in your day.
#4. Poor ergonomics: Feeling stiff? Achy? Tight? Make sure that your office furniture is properly adjusted for optimal ergonomics! By following a basic office ergonomics guide, you can help reduce strain to your upper and lower back, neck, hips and wrists. You may not notice discomfort right away with a poorly arranged set-up. Over time however, muscle strain from distortions in your body’s positioning combined with the effects of poor posture will take its toll. Spare yourself long-term damage to your alignment and avoid sore muscles by taking the time to adjust your desk and computer.
#5. Eye strain + immobility: Too much of a good thing just isn’t good. No matter how focused you are on your projects, or how attentive you remain to your inbox, it’s always a wise idea to give your eyes a rest and your legs a stretch. Make sure your screen is about an arm’s length from your face, and adjust your screen brightness settings so that you aren’t squinting. Ensure your work environment is properly lit, and try to look up and away from the screen about every 20 minutes, even if it’s just for 15 seconds. Every hour you should aim to stand and stretch your legs. Take a walk to the washroom or water fountain to improve circulation, or stand and stretch for 30 seconds to loosen your muscles.
These practices have the potential to grow into habit. Implementing these manageable changes to your daily practices on the job can drastically improve the way you feel at the end of the day. When you leave work still feeling healthy and energized, you’re far more likely to have a productive evening. With the momentum to make a home-cooked meal, hit the gym, or tackle a household project, you’ll keep your energy flow up, your metabolism humming, and your body happy right until bedtime.
So think about your habits and empower yourself with small changes. We guarantee you’ll feel better for it!