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February 14, 2014 at 8:00 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Fight Office Pain and Fatigue: Top 6 Expert Tips

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

I was lamenting my aging body with another 40-something this week.  I told him about how in younger days I might stretch if I was going to run five miles or engage in a 90 minute soccer match. These days, by necessity, my threshold is much, much lower. I have to stretch before a 45 drive or if I'm going to park it at my desk for a couple hours.  I'm not alone - many of us get beat up with relatively simple postural tasks that we didn't give a second thought years ago.  As such, we need to make things as easy on our bodies as we can. One such place is our work desks. 

For those of us who work at a desk, countless hours are logged in this hub.  Luckily, there are a lot of little adjustments that can make a big impact on your health, more than just the ergonomics. 

1. The Ultimate Pain Prevention Chair

The first and most important mechanical tip for working long hours at your desk is to get a good office chair. This chair should obviously be comfortable but also have numerous adjustments. 

90 degree Hip and Knee Angle: It's important to give your body a neutral sitting position where your hips and knees are at around 90 degrees. Too much flexion in the hips creates strain on the musculature of the hips and low back.

Your Chair Should Do The Work: Lumbar support is also important to take as much work off the low back as possible. You should be able to relax and let the chair do the work supporting your lower back.

Let the Arm Rests Do Their Thing: Probably the biggest misstep in poor ergonomics occurs in neglecting the arm rests. There are some small rhomboid-shaped muscles between the shoulder blades called the rhomboid muscles of all things. Their job is to support the arms when they are out in front of the body. While we can easily hold our arms out in front of us, doing this for hours on end leaves them sore and ragged. This is exactly what we do when we tap away at our keyboards without resting our elbows. By bringing up the arm rests and parking the elbows on them securely, we take the work off the rhomboid muscles, preventing that knife-like pain between the shoulder blades that is so common after a day of desk work.

Put Your Monitor on a Pedestal: Moving up the spine, it is important to keep the neck and head at a neutral, straight-ahead posture. To accomplish this often involves elevating the computer monitor.  It can be tricky with laptops, however, with the keyboard attached to the screen. For this reason, computer monitors are often better, separating the keyboard and screen. Separate keyboards further offer the option of a more contoured rest for the wrists, taking some of the work off at this level as well. 

2. Keep Moving

While proper posture is important, it is also essential to prevent immobility for long periods.  Getting up and moving for a spell at least each hour is important for a number of reasons.  This promotes circulation bringing oxygen to the tissues of the body, including the brain. It also prevents the stasis of blood in the legs which can lead to varicose veins in the legs and hemorrhoids. Rarely, poorly circulating blood in the legs can clot leading to a life-threatening pulmonary embolus (traveling blood clot from the leg to the lung). 

3. Prevent Phone/Neck Syndrome

Besides the computer, another important piece of equipment and a mechanical challenge on the desk is the phone. For people who spend a significant amount of time on the phone, proper ergonomics are essential. Cocking the head to the side to talk on the phone can lead to significant problems. Even holding the phone up to the ear for long periods can lead to muscle strain. For this reason, a headset is the best. And with the availability of wireless headsets now, talking on the phone can offer an opportunity to get up form the desk and stretch the legs.

4. Combat Calorie Imbalance

Let's face it - work is boring for the most part, especially when we park it at a desk. It can also be stressful. When most of us are bored or stressed, we tend to eat, mostly carbohydrates. A jar of candy on the desk can lead to excessive caloric intake. Compounding this over weeks and months can lead to excess weight. Keep candy away from the desk. In another plug for periodic breaks form the desk, a quick five minute power walk can keep the metabolism going and burn a few extra calories.

5. Your Desk Health Tool Box

If your desk is like mine, it accumulates a little of this and a little of that.  It is a storage vessel.  It is helpful to keep health-related items in the desk so that they are available.  To encourage oral health, keep floss and an extra toothbrush in your desk.  For headaches or other issues, storing some acetaminophen or anti-inflammatory medication is a good idea. 

6. Make Your Space a Happy Place

It's true that all work and no play makes us boring.  While for most of us work is a must, a boost in attitude can go a long way for those long hours at the desk. Place photos of loved ones or vacations to help elevate your mood with just a glance. Calendars with daily jokes or inspirations can also help with negativity. Music can also help. If your supervisor complains, let them know that the right playlist can also improve productivity.

Many of us spend many hours each week working at a desk.  A little attention can make a big difference in the long run, preventing potential health-stealing aspects of our work station. 

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