HERE’S HOW TO STAY HEALTHY WHEN YOU’RE TYPING ALL DAY.
Musculoskeletal disorders, such as back pain, arthritis and tendonitis, are incredibly common in the workplace—and incredibly disruptive. The Institute of Medicine estimates the economic burden of MSDs, as measured by compensation costs, lost wages and lost productivity, is between $45 and $54 billion annually. Dr. Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS, has been treating patients with back pain at Montgomery County Chiropractic Center for more than two decades. Here, he tells us how to stay healthy at the office.
CI: Thanks for talking with us, Dr. Conrad. Besides spending hours hunched over a computer, a lot of us have been working from home and are experiencing back pain and other MSDs for the first time. There’s a connection, right?
Dr. Allen Conrad: Absolutely. Prolonged sitting with improper back support can put excess strain on the spine and its muscles, which can lead to problems like headaches, whiplash and shoulder issues. Other conditions, such as tendonitis of the wrist or elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), which is a compression of the wrist’s median nerve, may occur from prolonged typing, and can become very painful if not treated appropriately.
CI: So what can we do?
Dr. Conrad: Making ergonomic changes to your home workspace will help prevent neck and back pain, as well as injuries from repetitive typing. First, check your alignment. While you’re typing, your wrist should be slightly extended, but no more than 15 degrees from a lateral view. This neutral position with slight extension will help alleviate stress on the muscles and tendons of the wrist and elbow. Also, make sure that from a lateral view of your seating position, your arm is close to parallel to the floor. If your chair is too high or too low, it will put additional stress on the wrist and hand muscles, which can lead to additional degenerative conditions. Sitting upright in a neutral and comfortable position allows you to do your job safely.
Second, choose the right keyboard. Ergonomic keyboards are not equal, because people’s wrists and arms are different sizes. Choose an ergonomic keyboard that feels comfortable when you’re using it, and make sure it has a reinforced, cushioned wrist pad. The keyboard should have a slight elevation that angles toward you.
Third, if you’re going to be working for an extended period of time, skip the tablet. Tablets can cause stress on the wrist, elbow and shoulder since they don’t allow for the same ergonomic posture as the traditional keyboard. Reserve your tablet for occasional use.
CI: Besides an ergonomic keyboard, do you recommend other equipment for a healthy workstation?
Dr. Conrad: Yes. For good desk posture, I recommend four things besides the keyboard: (1) a chair with lumbar support, since a reinforced lumbar pad will help keep your back in proper alignment and reduce the chance of a back injury; (2) a small footstool you can rest your feet on while you’re typing so that your knees will take pressure off your low back, which will help prevent low-back injuries from prolonged sitting at the computer; (3) an elevated monitor, since keeping the monitor at eye level will help prevent excess strain on your neck and shoulders and help prevent spasms and pain, and finally, 4) shoes that lace up and have a cushioned sole. Supportive shoes can offer extra support and help prevent neck and back pain.
CI: What about stretching?
Dr. Conrad: Stretching is a good idea. Sitting all day can cause a lot of pain and stiffness in your back, neck and shoulders. It’s important to stay flexible to prevent injuries, and regular stretching can help.
Here are two stretches that counteract stiffness in the neck, back, shoulder and hips:
Neck and shoulder stretch: While sitting at your chair, slowly shrug your shoulders up toward your ears with your head looking straight. Hold that pose for 5 seconds and then roll your shoulders back as you relax down. Repeat the entire sequence for 8–10 repetitions and then again, this time rolling your shoulders forward.
Spine stretch: Sit up straight, looking straight ahead, and raise your arms above your head and clasp your hands. Hold this pose for 5 seconds, then return your arms to your side. Repeat 8–10 times.
You should be stretching daily, but go at your own pace, and seek medical attention if you have any conditions that become worse during stretching.
CI: Anything else we should know?
Dr. Conrad: Healthy habits can help prevent the exacerbation of previous injuries, but it is important to seek treatment promptly when injuries do occur. As with any injury, the quicker you get it diagnosed and treated, the better the long-term prognosis.
CI: Thanks for your time! We’ll definitely be using these tips.
Dr. Conrad: My pleasure.