There are jobs that seem to have obvious risks attached to them. Stunt performers, oil rig drillers, paid mercenaries: they all have their obvious drawbacks, such as falls out of skyscraper windows, deep-sea adventures and, well, bullets. But just because you don’t necessarily include a consideration for danger pay in your salary requests, doesn’t mean that your office job isn’t just dangerous to your health as any tough man job, albeit in a very different way.
The evolution of office job has called for a very sedate office culture. Add onto that the technology we have managed to develop that enables us to perform virtually all of your tasks from our computers, and we have set the stage for a sedentary, physically repetitive and unchallenged day. Along with this comes a host of ailments affecting our cubicle-entombed bodies. To follow are some of the most common office ailments that you may be suffering, and what you can do to prevent them.
Repetitive stress injuries (or RSIs) are some of the most common and severe injuries that you can face in the office environment. These ailments include the most common, tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as the less familiar, thoracic outlet syndrome and shoulder bursitis.
Tendonitis is the inflammation of a tendon—in the office, it is most commonly in the tendons of the elbows, wrists or hands. It is characterized by pain or numbness in the extremities (for example, in the fingers), restricted movement, weakness, and swollen tendons. As tendons move to control extremities, like the fingers, they can create friction in their protective sheath, causing inflammation.
If you do not pay attention to this pain, it can become a chronic condition that is exacerbated by lost elasticity in the tendons as the body ages. To prevent tendonitis, take frequent breaks when working for extended periods of time on your keyboard. Place a padded surface under your forearms when keyboarding, supporting your arms at a 90 degree angle.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is another serious condition that can develop from repetitive use of your keyboard and mouse. It affects the nerve that passes through the carpal tunnel of the wrist into the fingers. This nerve can become compressed if tendons swell (from repetitive use), putting pressure on the nerve. This pressure can cause numbness or a cold, tingling or burning sensation in the fingers (especially the thumb, index and middle fingers, often experienced in the middle of the night). Persistent pain can characterize the later stages, and if it is not caught early, surgery may result.
In order to prevent carpal tunnel in the first place, again, frequent breaks (at least one an hour) are encouraged to minimize the repetitiveness of the movement that is causing the pressure. Your keyboard should be at a level that allows you to keep your elbows bent at a 90 degree angle with your shoulders relaxed. You should have a palm rest on your mouse pad—avoid a wrist rest as these can elevate your wrist higher than your hand. Also, avoid keeping your keyboard at a level at which you have to rest your wrists on the hard edge.
Overuse of the mouse is a contributing factor to carpal tunnel, and many RSIs, so when you can, switch the use of the mouse back and forth between your right and left hands. When possible, use function keys on the keyboard instead of pointing and clicking the mouse.
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome And Shoulder Bursitis
Thoracic outlet syndrome and shoulder bursitis are just two problems related to improper posture at the computer. Thoracic outlet syndrome happens is caused when the nerves and blood vessels in the neck, shoulders and upper arm are compressed from poor posture. It can result in numbness or pain in the fingers. Again, proper placement of the keyboard so that the shoulders are not shrugged while keyboarding is important.
Those who use the telephone often, and squish it between the shoulder and neck, are also at risk. If you frequently use the telephone, invest in a headset. Make sure you sit back in your chair and try to press your back against the back of the chair to prevent slouching. Shoulder bursitis is the inflammation of the fluid sack surrounding the shoulder joint, and can also be relieved with proper placement of keyboard and mouse.
Back problems are an increasing strain on millions of peoples’ lives, and the health care systems of most industrial countries. One of the reasons for the increased incidence of back injury and strain is weakened muscle due to lack of use. Instead of using our bodies to propel us through our work days, we slouch and perch on the edge of our chairs, and generally train it to repose it a multitude of sloppy postures. The muscles are so weak that they often do not even keep us upright during our work.
The best thing that you can do for your back and your posture (so that you don’t have a stooped frame at 40) is to exercise it. If you don’t go to the gym, where you can build the muscles in your back, you should at least stretch the muscles—in both your chest and back—every day to prevent shortening of the chest and the lengthening of the back muscles that are going to give you poor posture.
To further support your back, sit, as described above, with your arms at 90 degree angles to the keyboard, with shoulders relaxed. Invest in a desk chair that provides lumbar support and make sure your back is in contact with the back of the chair, and your feet are planted firmly on the floor.
The balance of frequent movement (take walks periodically throughout the day to stretch the back) and proper posture while working will help you enjoy good back fitness into your twilight office-dwelling years.
Another common ailment in the office is the headache. This is tougher to pin down, as headaches can be caused by anything from poor sleeping habits to tension to migraine, whose source is yet unknown. Some environmental factors in your office, however, can include eyestrain, poor ventilation, poor lighting, and poor posture. T
o eliminate eyestrain, blink regularly, refocus your eyes at a distance from your computer screen regularly, and avoid eye glare from a window or improper lighting on your screen. You can get an anti-glare filter to deal with this if relocation is not an option.
If you can, avoid florescent lighting in your workspace and dim your computer display, especially if you suffer from migraines. Also, regular massages can alleviate tension build-up in muscles that can cause stress-related headaches to occur. Proper posture—the moral of this article, it seems—can also work to prevent tension build-up in muscles.
Because the proper posture and support in your workspace affect many of these conditions, be especially aware if you are using a laptop for your work. Because of their compact and less easily manipulated shape, they often encourage poor posture and awkward work angles.
It is difficult to train the body proper posture, especially if you have not been concentrating on it thus far. But just as you train your muscles to slouch, so too can they be trained and strengthened to provide support for your body and prevention from common work ailments.