When we think about our daily routines, many people sit more than they stand throughout their day. We wake up in the morning and we sit to read the newspaper and drink our coffee. We leave for work and we sit in our cars or public transit each way. Once we get to work, most of us sit at a desk for hours at a time, sit to eat our lunches, and then return to work to sit for several more hours. We arrive home to sit and eat our dinner. Following dinner, we either get back on the computer or just watch TV until time to go to sleep. On any given day we could sit for 13-14 hours out of the 24 hours we are given.
According a British Medical Journal study, if you sit for less than 3 hours per day, you could extend your lifespan by up to 2 years. Our health is clearly affected by the number of hours we sit and that could drive up our healthcare costs. The obvious problems are obesity, weakness of muscles, and nerve impingement. The not so obvious are less blood flow, joint stiffness, back pain, neck pain, lower oxygen intake, and problems with your digestive system. Sitting compresses the spine. Even if your office is ergonomically correct, you can still suffer from chronic illnesses.
In the seated position, your torso is compressed causing pressure on your digestive system making it difficult to digest your food properly and intestines to work properly. This can lead to indigestion and bladder pain. Your chest will typically round in as we work on computers to write on the desk. This will reduce your ability to fully expand your lungs. Over time, your body will maintain this position even when standing and your stamina will suffer. Your head will lean forward putting pressure in the mid back increasing your risk of headaches and even ringing in your ears. Finally sitting can shorten the front of your thighs, quads, and increase your risk of low back pain or even knee pain.
How can you reverse the risks? Obviously, stand up more any time you can. When on the phone, stand up and talk. If you are in a meeting, if possible stand up. When going to lunch, walk instead of riding, if possible. When you do have to sit, be conscious of how you sit. Keep your back straight and don’t slouch in the chair. Make sure your feet can touch the floor and pull your chair closer to your desk, so your body will be straighter.
Finally, learn how to stretch your body to reverse the posture you have held all day. While sitting at your desk, start by stretching your neck up. Place both hands under your chin and look up. Give yourself a nice little stretch for 2 seconds and release. Repeat the stretch 10 times and do them 3 times per day. Use a door way and stretch your chest to take the pressure off your mid back. Remember to hold the stretch for 2 seconds and repeat 10 times. In the evening you can stretch out your upper quads, the front of your thighs, to take pressure off your low back. This stretch can be done by lying on the floor or your bed. Lay on your side and pull your lower knee up toward your chest. Grab the ankle of the upper leg and pull your heel back to your hip. You should be able to touch your hip. If not, practice this until you can. Hold for 2 seconds and repeat 10 times. Lastly, with the heel of your upper leg against your hip, kick your knee back and you will feel the stretch in the upper thigh. Hold 2 seconds and repeat 10 times.
Doing these few things can help relieve your common aches and pains from sitting and allow you to do the activities you enjoy most. I would suggest you do the neck and chest stretches daily. Do the thigh stretches every other day. It may take a little time now, but it can save you a lot of pain later.
5 Tips to Getting Companies “invested” into True Ergonomics
- Focus on productivity, health, safety and prevention instead of lagging indicators such as injury rates. Reaction to injury leads to poor choices that get rationalized as sensible, but show little benefit. Providing hearing protection only for workers whose hearing is already damaged would seem like foolishness to most of us. Yet it is actually the policy of most companies to consider alternative computer keyboards only for injured workers. This is like closing the barn doors after the horses have run away. Encourage your employer to be proactive about prevention. (You could suggest that your managers read this article.)
- Insurance companies who write coverage for Worker’s Compensation need to become proactive in establishing incentives for companies who will invest, not just in any product that says it is ergonomic, but in products that can be demonstrated in scientifically sound studies to show promise, and in paying for independent ergonomists (those who don’t sell the ergonomic products they recommend) to help make sound decisions. It takes a small leap of faith, but any insurer who does this will be at a competitive advantage in the years to come by having a lower claims rate and offering lower premiums.
- Standards need to be established. Many ‘ergonomic’ products are designed by marketing or manufacturing people with no clear understanding of the ergonomic problems that need to be solved. New initiatives like the ErgonomicStar program, and other evaluation procedures or rating systems need to be developed as buyers’ guides so money isn’t wasted on products that don’t accomplish the buyer’s purpose.
- Don’t waste energy on government regulation. Even if the OSHA standards put in place at the end of the Clinton administration had remained, there would not have been sufficient funding to ensure across-the-board compliance. Why start over on a losing proposition? There are very real and tangible benefits over the long run to implementing sound ergonomic choices. If government offices at all levels would invest in the best ergonomic consultants and equipment currently available, it would stimulate the economy and protect a large body of workers all at the same time. The best role of government is to set an example rather than create regulation.
- Look for the obvious targets of opportunity within your own company. Computer workstations are certainly not the only only area of concern regarding ergonomics. They do present an easy opportunity in many companies to make a lot of difference, however. Every manufacturing environment can present different challenges. Every computer workstation shares a large number of similarities with most others. Identify those types of opportunities within your business and suggest a task force be formed in the interest of greater productivity, as well as better health and safety.