Patient: Doctor, it hurts when I do (...insert work, home, or leisure task...).
Doctor: Well, don't do that.
I've had many clients who are frustrated, having heard this, knowing that they cannot stop working or performing the activity that is painful. Although it is helpful to work with an ergonomic specialist who can show you specific ways in which to make your work less stressful on the body, a common-sense approach to activities can also make a difference.
This multi-part series will offer some common-sense tips - based on the ergonomic principles of avoiding repetition, force and awkward postures - that can help you avoid pain while working.
I worked recently with a graphic designer who was having pain in both arms. Working long days to complete a complicated project, a mouse-click counter showed that he was clicking the mouse between 10,000 to 15,000 times per day. The graphic designer researched available software and was able to purchase a new program that reduced his mouse clicks to 3000 to 4000 clicks per day. By the time he attended his first appointment with me, this client was already well on his way to recovery because he had intuitively related his pain to mouse use, confirmed this with the mouse-click counter, and taken steps to reduce the repetition by researching alternative software packages and changing to a program that demanded many fewer clicks.
Methods of Reducing Repetition
- Look for ways to break up the repetitive components of a job. For example, after an hour of so of typing, make a few phone calls, walk down the hall to consult with a co-worker (rather than e-mailing), stretch or get a drink of water.
- If your job requires a variety of duties, switch frequently between tasks rather than completing each one before moving on.
- Do some research and find a different tool that makes the job easier (such as the different graphic design program in the example above).
- Let the tool do the work instead of the body. Use power tools (for example, an electric screwdriver or tools with special ratchet devices) or automation when possible.
- During the work week, be open to discovering leisure activities that have different physical demands than work activities. Enjoy leisure activities with similar physical demands on the days that you do not work.
- Job Enlargement is the process by which a worker is provided with a greater number of tasks to perform so that repetition of any one particular movement in reduced.
- Job Rotation is the process by which employees are rotated through different jobs. This works well when the demands of the job itself can not be changed (for example, assembly line work). The key is to rotate employees every few hours between jobs that require different physical demands.
Next Week - Methods for Reducing Force & Awkward Postures
Marji Hajic is an Occupational Therapist and a Certified Hand Therapist practicing in Santa Barbara, California. For more information on hand and upper extremity injuries, prevention and recovery, visit Hand Health Resources.