Like most of my patients, you probably spend at least 8 hours a day working. For whatever your profession is, a set of ergonomics has been developed for it. The science of ergonomics was created to design workplace environments, furniture, devices, and specific positions that would allow people to work comfortably and productively during their workday, without injury or strain, regardless of their occupation.

Ergonomics and Work-Related Risk Factors

Ergonomics involves assessing the risk of injury to hands, wrists, arms, necks, backs, legs, hips, in short, your entire musculoskeletal system, while performing your daily work tasks. Solutions to lower and/or remove your risks for discomfort/injury are based on assessment findings.

Most ergonomic risks concern themselves with jobs that require lifting, bending, prolonged/repetitive movements of the hands (such as with computer operation functions), jobs that require pushing, pulling, carrying or moving heavy objects, or working in confined and cramped positions. Noise, temperature, vibration, and smells are other factors that go into ergonomic risk factor assessment in a particular workplace.

Beneficial Computer Ergonomics

Since the most common ergonomic concerns usually involve computer usage; I'll confine my recommendations for good ergonomics to those associated with using a computer.

Many of you spend 8 or more hours a day at a desk job, working on a computer. That's a lot of time to be keyboarding, mousing, and sitting staring at a bright, flickering computer screen! Although it might not seem readily apparent, just the way you sit at your desk can be a risk for pain and injury!

Other risks come from the position of your neck, too high, too low, looking at a computer screen, the height of your computer monitor, or the position of your hands and wrists while repetitively typing or mousing all day. I once had a patient who complained of a stiff neck with an off/on headache that only let up on weekends when he wasn't working.

He assumed it was just work tension and eyestrain until an ergonomics assessment at his workplace revealed that his computer monitor screen was too high and too bright! He was looking up at a highly lit screen all day! His position of bending his head and neck back most the day caused a stiff neck and sore shoulders. The brightness of the screen caused eyestrain, which brought on the headache! After lowering the monitor, and dialing-down the brightness, his chronic stiff neck and headache started going away in a matter of days! So, it really does pay to adjust your workstation carefully for ergonomic efficiency.

I'd like to suggest the following correct ergonomics for computer usage to prevent stiff neck and shoulders, sore wrists and elbow joints and make your work hours more productive, pain and injury free!

•Computer monitor: At or below eye level. Too high puts a strain on your neck by constantly tilting your head backward looking up. Can pinch nerves in the cervical spine, which can cause stiff neck and shoulder muscles and/or headache.

•Computer screen glare: Be sure you don't have a bright light shining at your computer screen as this causes you to hold your head in awkward positions to see what's on the screen. Also, adjusting the brightness switch on your monitor can tone down computer light. This icon looks like a sun with rays around it.

•Head and neck alignment: Both should be balanced and in a straight line with your torso. Good posture is key to keeping good alignment.

•Relaxed shoulders: If your shoulders are hunched up under your ears, you're inviting severe shoulder and neck muscle strain, soreness, stiffness.

•Supported Elbows: Elbows should be close to your body and resting on armchair elbow rests.

•Lower back support: The base of your desk chair should support your lower back. Many people sit almost on the edge of their seat and wonder why their back is so stiff and sore at the end of the day!

•Wrists/hands/forearms aligned: In a continuous line. If hands/wrists are in palms up or down position, you'll feel the strain in your forearms.

•Space for keyboards/mouse: Allow enough room for these devices so you can move around in a non-cramped manner.

•Feet on floor: This keeps the hips in alignment and you seated properly in your chair.

•Comfort/flexibility: Ergonomics aside, no one can sit in one position every day. Make sure the position at your desk allows you to move freely, or change positions.

•Get up and move: At least every 2 hours, get up and stretch, take a little walk, climb stairs to get blood pumping back up your legs.

Once you learn the basics of good ergonomics, you can make adjustments to your work station/computer desk to make it as comfortable and productive as possible. Something as simple as lowering the height/brightness of your computer monitor screen can make a big difference in how you feel at the end of the day and whether you're relaxed and ready to enjoy your evening!

Mark Bromson, M.D.

Author's Bio: 

•University of Miami Graduate School-M.B.A (Health Administration)
•University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
•Harvard College Biology-Graduated Magna cum laude
•Fellowship: Baylor University of Medical Center
•Residency and Internship: The Mount Sinai School of Orthopedic Surgery
•Fellow, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
•Fellow, American Orthopedic Foot & Ankle Society
•Fellow, Florida Orthopedic Society