Stay Fit While You Sit: Ergonomics for a Healthier You
The average worker, whether it be a secretary or receptionist, a computer technician, or an airline pilot, spends approximately 8 to 10 hours a day sitting. They sit at work, they sit in the car on their way to and from their job, they sit at home at the dinner table, and they sit in the evening watching T.V. Sitting for long hours, at home or at work, may be hazardous to your health!
The good news is, no matter how much you sit, proper posture and an ergonomically sound environment can reduce the risk of serious health problems caused by so much sitting. What is Ergonomics?
Ergonomics is scientific engineering of an object or environment intended to maximize productivity, while minimizing fatigue and discomfort. Anything from the pen that you write with, to the office that you work in, can be ergonomically designed to meet this definition.
When discussing ergonomics and health, there are four areas of your body that are of primary concerns.
- Your Back
- Your legs
- Your hands
- Your head and neck Proper ergonomics and posture are necessary to prevent potential health problems like:
- Back problems
- Neck and Shoulder pain
- Eye strain
- Arm and Wrist pain
- Low back and Leg pain
- Repetitive strain injuries such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or Tendonitis Other problems that improper ergonomics, particularly in the workplace, can cause are:
- Reduced productivity
- Increased errors
- Reduced job satisfaction Improve Health and Reduce Stress
Now let’s take a look at how we can improve your health by reducing the stress caused by sitting all day. First, let’s look at your back. Your back assumes its normal posture based on the shape of the spine. The spine normally has four curves in it. The bones of the spine are called vertebra. They are separated by spongy pads called discs. In between the vertebra exit the spinal nerves that control the function of every muscle and organ in the body.
Poor posture can alter the natural curves of your spine and cause damage to your discs and nerves. When sitting, it is important to maintain the normal curve of your spine, which creates good posture. A good chair will support the lower back, and help maintain the proper curves of the spine. A bad chair can be made into a good chair with a proper back rest. These can be purchased through different ergonomic stores such as a Chiropractor’s Office, a Orthopedic Supply Store or other Big Box Stores.
The next area to consider is the position of your legs. When sitting, your legs should always be slightly bent. This relieves pressure on the lower back. It also relaxes the back muscles and takes the pressure off of the nerves that go from the back, down the legs. The rules also apply to when you are driving. Your seat should be positioned so that your legs are slightly bent when your feet are on the pedals.
Now let’s take a look at your hands. The average typist types 60 words per minute for six hours a day. That is the equivalent of pressing 27 tons a day – with your fingers! Damage to your hands and wrists can also be caused by activities outside of the work environment, such as knitting, crocheting, baseball or bowling. Something as simple as resting your head on your hand while watching TV can cause over-extension of the wrist. Repetitive motions of the hand and wrist can result in a painful pinched nerve in the wrist, known as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. These problems can be prevented by simple hand and wrist exercises done every two hours, which we will cover later. Let us now look at ways to maintain good health for your neck and head.
Having to look up or look down on a repetitive basis can cause your injury to your neck. This can cause disc and nerve damage, which can result in headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain and fatigue. Here are some very important rules to follow at work or at home:
- Use a shoulder phone rest or a headset to reduce this stress
- Reading materials should be placed at a 20 – 45 degree angle. A copy holder should be used to minimize strain at a typing work station.
- Try to keep all vital equipment and documents within arm’s reach. Constant leaning and reaching can add to physical stress on the body.
- If your job requires sitting for long periods of time, you should get up and move around for 5 minutes every hour. You can work while standing up and moving around you area.
- When you work at a computer all day, try to look out a window, or across the room for 10 seconds every 15 minutes. This will help reduce eye strain.
If you work at a computer or keyboard all day, the way your work area is set up may be affecting your health. Most work areas are built based on a standard that was designed to be “universal.” Unfortunately, not all of us fit that standard. Here are some specifications that you can use to optimize your work area:
Stand facing your chair. Adjust the sitting surface so that it is just below the bottom of your kneecaps. When sitting, your thighs should be parallel with the floor.
- Arm rests on your chair should be set slightly below the level of your elbows while sitting upright, with your shoulders relaxed.
- Keyboard height should be 1 to 2 inches below elbow height.
- Your wrists should always be in a neutral position when working for extended periods. Use wrist supports or palm rests if needed. Watches and bracelets can cause problems by pressing against the wrist and restricting circulation.
- Crossing your legs or sitting on your ankles should be avoided.
- Both feet should rest squarely on the floor.
- Your computer monitor should be directly in front of you with the top of the screen even with, or slightly below eye level.
- Your head should tilt down only slightly. To minimize eye strain, your monitor should be 30 to 32 inches from your eyes. The monitor should be tilted so that the screen is perpendicular to your line of vision.
- Screen shields should be used to minimize glare and eye strain.
- If you use a copy holder, it should be set up directly next to your computer screen.
If you follow these guidelines, you will greatly reduce the amount of physical stress that you put on your body while at work. Here are some stretches that you can do at work or at home to help you stay relaxed and healthy:
- Shrugging your shoulders in circular motions will help the muscles relax.
- Front thigh muscles need to be stretched regularly. Do this by standing up, hold onto the back of a chair and pull one foot up behind you to maximally flex your knee. Do this for both thighs by holding each for 15 seconds.
- It is important to stretch less frequently used muscles during breaks.
- Stretch your back muscles by bending forwards to your knees while seated.
- Stretching your lower back can be done by pulling one knee at a time toward your chest. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat using the other knee. These stretches are for your hands and wrists:
- Fingers Out – Fingers In: Separate your fingers as far as possible. Close fingers together and squeeze. Repeat 3 times with each hand.
- Hand Extension & Flexion: Bend one wrist to extension (upward) using your other hand. Hold the position at the end range of motion for 15 seconds. Repeat with the other hand. Repeat all the steps to flexion (downward) for both wrists for 15 seconds each.
We are now going to have you do several tests to determine the need for preventative treatment for spinal, muscular or neurological problems.
Neurological Stress Test
Stand on your left leg with your right leg bent at the knee. Close your eyes and count to ten. Can you hold your balance?
Restricted Low-Back Motion Test
Bend over and try to touch your toes. Could you reach your toes without bending your knees?
Pelvic Distortion – Balance Test
Close your eyes and march in place for a count of ten. Are you off balance? Do you have to re-center yourself? When you open your eyes and look down, are your feet spread apart?
Neck Rotation Test
Turn your head from left to right. Do you feel any pain or restriction?
Apley’s Scratch Test
Put your left hand over your left shoulder. Putting your right arm around your back on the right side, try to reach up and touch your hands behind your back. Repeat with the other direction (right over, left around back). Can you touch your finger tips? Can you grip your hands together?
Put your hands up in the air (as in “This is a stick-up!”) Hold your hands up for one minute. Do your hands start to tingle or go numb?
If you failed any of these tests, or suffer from two or more of the symptoms, it may indicate that you have a physical problem.
Have you ever had a pebble in your shoe?
Recent studies have shown that a “hands-on” approach to neck (and back) pain may be more effective than traditional therapy or medical care. A study published in the Annals of Internal medicine compared Chiropractic, physical therapy and medical care for the effectiveness in improving mobility and reducing neck pain. After seven weeks of treatment, 68.3 % of the Chiropractic patients reported that they were “significantly or completely recovered,” compared with only 50.8 % of the physical therapy group, and 35.9 % of the patients under physician’s care.
Another study, published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics found Chiropractic was not only more effective for treating neck pain than the use of anti-inflammatory drugs, but also safer. “The evidence indicated that NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) use poses a significantly greater risk of complications that that of Chiropractic adjustments by several hundred times.”
An international study, commissioned by the Onterio Minestry of Health, concluded that “Spinal manipulation by chiropractors is more effective, safer and more cost-effective than other treatments for low-back pain.” The report’s principle researcher says, “Many medical therapies are of questionable validity or are clearly inadequate.”
Because chiropractors work with their hands and are trained to find and correct physical conditions through a form of physical treatment, they are used by some of the world’s greatest athletes and entertainers. Famous people such as Tiger Woods, Paul McCartney, Clint Eastwood, Billy Jean King, Bruce Willis, Madonna, Cher, Kirstie Alley, John Travolta, John Stockton, and the Minnesota Vikings, to name a few, seek regular Chiropractic treatment to prevent injuries and to stay in top physical shape.
The Medical Perspective
Your Medical Doctor will not have a lot of advice for you because they spend their time treating patients. They do not spend a lot of time evaluating ergonomics. They may recommend Physical Therapy where you may learn some times about staying fit while you sit, but there is not guarantee.