Sitting pretty

Ergonomically correct workspaces help employees make it through day

Posted: Monday, October 09, 2006

Shoulder tension, backaches and dry, irritated eyes are all symptoms of overuse injuries, according to Adam King, fitness specialist with Advocate Health System in Chicago. The culprit? That rickety old chair could be partially at fault, but for the most part, workers should take preventative measures into their own hands.

These problems certainly don't apply solely to office workers. Potentially irreversible injuries can occur in any line of work.

"Prevention is key," says King. "Once the injuries occur, it's hard to reverse them. We want to avoid that as much as we can."

In an ergonomics workshop, King points out that posture has a lot to do with aches and pains. For example, if an office administrator consistently rests his or her wrists on their desk while typing, the muscles in the forearm will elongate and shorten to compensate for the awkward position. Instead, King recommends typing with the wrists slightly above the wrist rest. This will help the muscles on both sides of the arm to remain balanced.

For information on creating a more comfortable workspace, visit:

While many companies provide informational meetings on ergonomically correct workstations, some do not offer adjustable chairs, desks or computer monitors as experts recommend. This can create a problem for shorter workers in particular, because proper desk posture cannot be attained without adjustable furnishings.

"Holding the [proper position] is going to be tough," says King regarding many office workers' poor sitting posture and the affect on muscles. "Those muscles are going to get fatigued quickly, so you want to readjust each day to slowly build that up."

The obvious method to prevent repetitive motion disorder, which is the technical term for aches and pains associated with repeating the same task for hours on end, is to simply stop doing it. However, that's not an option for most people. Instead, King recommends taking breaks intermittently throughout the day ... and be sure to add stretches to your daily routine:

Desk Stretches

Finger stretch:

• Separate and straighten your fingers until tension of a stretch is felt.

• Hold for 20 seconds or until you feel the tension diminishing.

• Relax, then bend your fingers at the knuckles and hold for 10 seconds.

• Repeat once more.

Shoulder shrugs:

• Raise the top of your shoulders toward your ears until you feel slight tension in your neck and shoulders.

• Hold this feeling of tension for three to five seconds, then relax your shoulders downward into their normal position.

• Do this two to three times.

• This stretch is best during the first signs of tightness or tension in the should and neck area.

Chest stretch:

• With fingers interlaced behind your head, keep elbows straight out to your side with your upper body in an aligned position.

• Pull your shoulder blades toward each other to create a feeling of tension through the upper back and shoulder blades.

• Hold this for eight to 10 seconds, then relax.

• Do this several times to relieve tension.

Neck stretch:

• Start with your head in a comfortable, aligned position.

• Slowly tilt your head to the left side of your neck

• Hold stretch for 10 to 20 seconds.

• Do not over-stretch.

• Tilt head to the right side and stretch. Do this two to three times on each side.

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