Although it is helpful to work with an ergonomic specialist who can show you 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.
Part 1 discussed methods of reducing repetitive movements in the workplace.
Part 2 discussed methods of avoiding excessive force during activity.
This is Part 3 - a discussion of methods to reduce awkward postures and positioning.
Recently, I assessed the workstation of a woman who was having shoulder, neck and arm pain. Her employer had purchased appropriate ergonomic equipment for her including a keyboard, keyboard tray, adjustable monitor holder, and vertical mouse. The woman’s pain lessened but did not completely go away. I was called in to see what else needed to be done. As I observed this woman working, I noticed that she centered the keyboard on the keyboard tray; however, she never used the 10-key of her keyboard, causing her to shift her chair to the left so she could more easily access her letter keys. As she shifted to the left, her forearm would hit the right arm support of her chair as she reached for her mouse. A work order was being processed to remove her right arm support. The mouse was on the same level of the keyboard on an attached mouse-holder. The keyboard tray was positioned in a negative tilt (good for wrist positioning) causing the mouse to slide down the slope (annoying and bad for productivity). Because of this, the woman would frequently place the mouse on the desk rather than the mouse support, causing her to reach forward, up and to the right. A relatively simple solution was to center the letter keys to the monitor and use a mouse bridge (with the ability to adjust for the negative tilt of the keyboard) over the number keys - allowing the woman to be centered to the monitor and keyboard tray and avoid awkward reaching for the mouse.
Methods of Reducing Awkward Positioning & Improving Posture
- Keep reaching to a minimum.
- Assure proper fit of the chair. There should be support for the lower back. Height should be adjustable in relationship to the work surface so that the shoulders are relaxed and the elbows are positioned at the side of the body (in-line with the shoulders). The work should be positioned at a height that allows the elbows to be open slightly greater than 90 degrees. A foot-rest should used when necessary.
- The work should be positioned directly in front of the body to avoid excessive reaching or turning.
- Keep frequently used items within an easy to reach work space.
- Maintain a neutral wrist position. Look for tools that fit the hand well and/or are shaped to help maintain the neutral wrist position. For example, split keyboards; even hammers now have a curve in the handle that allows the wrist to be held straight while working rather than dropping the wrist toward the small finger. Avoid the use of tools with pre-shaped finger grooves unless they fit the hand very well – one size may fit only a few.
- The more users that a work station has, the more adjustable that workstation should be to accommodate for different body sizes and shapes.
- If you need to consistently reach overhead, either move the work or items you are reaching for to a lower level, or position yourself higher using a stepstool or platform.
Next Week – Improving Posture and Reducing Stress
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.