Using telephones can be a pain in the neck
There is a measurable ergonomic health risk from using the phone for just two hours a day. That is among the conclusions of a study released today, April 7. According to researchers in Surrey University, half of a group of office workers surveyed suffered from neck pain, and 31 per cent suffered from lower back pain. And 65 per cent reported headaches, sometimes or frequently.
All participants were using the phone for a minimum of two hours a day.
The study was sponsored by Plantronics, which manufactures headsets used in call centres and other businesses. "The first detailed study of telephone users in the office environment demonstrates that there is a measurable health risk for anyon e using the phone for just hours daily," says a company statement.
The studys author, physiotherapist Elizabeth Simpson, says: "Unlike manual worker safety, the issue of occupational injury among office staff is still not taken seriously enough by employers, This is partly because the injuries caused by bad telephone habits cannot be seen and take time to manifest."
The study analysed over two months the postures of 26 participants who used the computer and telephone simultaneously. The participants worked in different areas: legal secretarial; computer; personal assistant; administration.
The study found that using headsets reduced health problems, and is cited by Plantronics to press the case for i nvesting in these devices. It also offers general advice and observations.
The study warns against "Phone Neck": "Perhaps the most commonly observed posture is to grip the telephone between shoulder and head, leaving both hands free to use a computer, or take notes during a call. This posture increases the risk of nerve compression in the neck and shoulder area, which could lead to a range of problems in the spine, arm and hands."
Another dangerous posture is leaning forward away from the back of the chair while taking a call: "This puts greater pressure on the spine, which can cause discomfort, at worst it could lead to a cumulative disorder."
According to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy in Britain, "Work-related neck and body pain not only causes considerable pain and misery to those affected but results in an estimated 1.2 million working days lost every year."
Ergonomics, the science of fitting the job to the person, is now recognized as an integral part of any workplace. In computer-related work settings ergonomic principles play a crucial role in preventing CIRSIs, Computer Induced Repetitive Stress Injuries. A good approach to workplace ergonomics involves several areas: body mechanics and articulation, proper posture at the computer, adopting an ergonomic workstation arrangement, relieving stress, and taking regular breaks for stretching, strengthening and relaxation. Here are some suggestions for practicing ergonomics easily in the workplace.
Proper Body Mechanics and Articulation in the Office
Practicing proper body mechanics and articulation is essential in helping to prevent RSIs from developing. The back and neck are particularly vulnerable to pain at the office, often simply from improper use of the spine. Typing also presents some problems and should be practiced with proper technique.
Bending: Whether you are typing at the computer, filing, or sitting for long periods of time, it is easy to bend the spine incorrectly, which can result in Lower Back Pain, Cervical Disc Herniation, Lumber Disc Herniation, or Neck Pain. Bend forward from the hips, not the back, and keep your neck and head in line with your spine to prevent back problems.
Lifting: Lift heavy objects from the legs, not the back. This usually requires squatting down to lift the object. If something is too heavy for you, ask for help.
Typing Technique: Practice proper posture at the computer and wrist alignment to start off. Press the keys lightly instead of pounding them. Don't twist or strain to reach a key, for example when trying to do a double key function. Use two hands for double key functions instead of twisting one hand. Most of all, take breaks!
Proper Posture at the Computer
Practicing proper posture while at your desk or computer is essential in reducing the risk of developing RSIs. Awkward postures, such as holding a phone on the shoulder while typing, or even simple slouched, crossed leg, collapsed postures can reduce circulation, cause tension and strain, and can lead to RSIs. Proper computer posture should start with neutral position, in which the body is balanced, lifted and properly aligned. From neutral position, place your elbows on your armrests and extend your forearms toward your keyboard. Your forearms should be at a slight angle from your elbows, not directly in front of them. If you don't have armrests, push your keyboard back far enough so that your forearms can rest on the desk at the same open angle. The spine has three natural curves in the cervical (neck), thoracic (upper back) and lumbar (lower back) regions. Proper alignment of the spine means keeping these natural curves lifted, not collapsed or held. Don't try to flatten out any of these curves, since this results in tucking of the pelvis or holding in the neck and upper back. Picture your spine as a gentle S curve, with each vertebrae stacked gently on top of each other. When you sit, you should feel your ears balanced over your shoulders, your shoulders over your hips and your spine lifted. Sit back against the lumbar support or the back of your chair so that your lumbar curve is supported and release your upper back into the back of the chair. Keep your chin level, not pushed down or tilted upwards. Gaze straight ahead. Remember to breathe. To prevent tension, fatigue and RSIs, computer users and people who sit for long periods of time should be sure to change positions often, every half hour or so, and take regular breaks with stretching and strengthening ergocises.
Proper Wrist Alignment
Even with proper spine alignment at the computer, improper wrist alignment can result in the development of RSIs, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in particular. The wrists should be a natural extension of the forearm, not twisted or bent in any way. From proper posture at the computer with your elbows on the armrest, extend your forearms toward the keyboard. Your wrists should be slightly lower than your elbows and your elbows should be about an inch in front of your torso. While you type, keep your wrists supported but not bent up or pushed down. It is important to keep the open angle of the elbows and the forearm, since this allows the wrists to stay in the line of the forearms.
Poor Posture at the Computer
It almost goes without saying that sitting for long periods of time in slouched, collapsed or unbalanced positions causes tension, fatigue and eventually, strain and RSIs. Forward Head Posture, collapsing the chest, crossing the legs, leaning to one side, tilting the head, and tucking the lumbar spine are all common postural problems. Twisting the wrists can also cause problems. Exerting force from a collapsed posture causes the muscles to work incorrectly and expend more effort, resulting in tension and potential RSIs. If you catch yourself slipping into a slouched, tilted or unbalanced position, take a break and think of lengthening your spine from the top of the spine, between your ears. Take a moment to breathe, align yourself and do an ergocise.
Ergonomic Workstation Arrangement
Here is a list of items necessary for an ergonomic workstation arrangement, as well as their proper positioning, use, and links to places that sell them.
Desk: Your desk should be large enough to comfortably hold your computer, monitor, mouse, and other necessary items and should ideally have rounded edges to help prevent injuries. Your desk should also have enough room underneath for you to stretch out your legs.
Chair: Ideally, an ergonomically designed chair is the best kind. Your chair should have separately adjustable back and height levels, a lumbar support, a padded seat, easy swiveling motion in order to reach for items, and five castor wheels for stability and mobility. Adjust the height of your chair so that your knees make a 90º angle from the ground with your feet flat on the floor. Use a footrest if your legs cannot reach the floor easily or your chair doesn't adjust.
Monitor: The position of the monitor is probably the most important factor in an ergonomically correct workstation arrangement, since monitor position determines where you look and therefore how you hold yourself. A monitor that is too low demands that you look down, resulting in Forward Head Posture and other problems, such as Cervical Disc Herniation. Conversely, a monitor that is too high or tilted upwards causes you to tilt your head back in order to see, resulting in compressed cervical vertebrae and possible Cervical Disc Herniation. In order to prevent strain and RSIs from developing, position your monitor no more than arms length away, so that the top edge of the monitor is at eye level and the center of the screen is where your gaze naturally falls. Tilting the screen upwards or downwards helps, but you may need to place something, such as a phone book or a box, under your monitor so that the height is correct. In general, try to move your eyes more than your neck when looking at the screen. To reduce screen glare, use a glare hood over your screen. You should also position your workstation facing towards windows instead of away from them to prevent window glare from being reflected in the monitor.
Keyboard: Place your keyboard directly in front of you on your desk. A keyboard pad placed at the base of the keyboard can help support your wrists. Ergonomic split keyboards can also be helpful because they support proper wrist alignment.
Mouse: Unfortunately, the micro movements of the hand, thumb and wrist that a mouse or trackball require are responsible for a great deal of tension and potential RSIs, especially on the right side, which is where most people place the mouse. Try to avoid using the mouse as much as possible. Use keyboard commands instead whenever possible. For when mouse use is necessary, use a mouse pad, which helps support proper wrist alignment.
Phone: Many people talk on the phone while typing on the computer. For some, this is an integral part of their job and cannot be avoided. Cradling the phone between a raised shoulder and your neck while typing places a great deal of strain in the shoulder, neck and back and can cause Carpal Tunnel Syndrom, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, and TMJ Dysfunction and should be avoided as much as possible. The best solution is a phone headset, which eliminates the problem altogether. The second best solution is a phone cushion, which reduces the problem somewhat, but doesn't eliminate tilting in the neck and shoulder tension.
Lighting: Proper lighting at the workstation is essential to avoiding eye and face strain and fatigue. Ideally, offices should have plentiful natural lighting combined with low glare ceiling lights. At each workstation there should be an adjustable, low glare light.
Document Holder: A document holder is essential in preventing RSIs because it reduces awkward neck movements to the side or down to see a document. Position your document holder next to your monitor at an angle that is easy for you to glance at it.
Voice recognition software: Voice recognition software, software that virtually eliminates typing, is an alternative for those with who already have RSIs and chronic pain. The vocal commands are easy to learn and can be used by anyone who is concerned about developing an RSI.
Relieving Stress at the Office
For many people, work dominates their lives. Since many of us spend most of our time at the office, learning ways to cope with office and work stress is essential to promoting health and reducing tension, frustration and risk for RSIs. Some occupations are more stressful or pressured than others. A magazine editor hounded by deadlines or a lawyer enmeshed in a controversial case most likely have higher stress levels than a librarian or a data entry worker. However, all of us experience work-related stress at some point in our careers. Emotional stress, such as too much pressure from a boss or a bad relationship with a colleague or supervisor, can sometimes be beyond our control and may require outside help. Physical stress, however, is something that workers can control to some extent just by educating themselves. If your office doesn't have a comprehensive ergonomic program implemented already, talk to your Human Resource Director about improving work conditions and the importance of ergonomics in the workp lace. Here are some suggestions for relieving stress at the office.
Get enough sleep. Rest is essential to good health and stress relief. With proper rest, not only will your body be better able to deal with long work hours, but your emotional outlook will improve as well.
Take periodic breaks, both during the day and longer ones (vacations).
Incorporate exercise into your work day. Take advantage of breaks already built into your day to stretch. Do a stretch while you wait for the copier, fax or printer to finish. Take a stroll at lunchtime. Walk to work or park your car farther away than usual and walk the rest of the way to work. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
Don't go beyond your limits. Long hours and little sleep, compounded with emotional stress are a disaster waiting to happen. It's better to call it quits, go home, rest and return the next day refreshed than to push yourself past your limits and risk illness or possible strain.
Take advantage of services your company offers. Today many companies offer lunchtime yoga or movement classes, or have a massage therapist on call for employees.
Try to leave work behind when you go home. Today the once-clear boundaries between work and home are beginning to blur. Many people return home only to turn on their computer after dinner for more work. For some people, their home is their office and there are no boundaries between the two. Whether you work at home or in an office, try to design your schedule so that certain times are free for your own personal or family time. Try to clear your mind of work-related problems when you are doing other activities, since dwelling on them will probably just add stress instead of helping you relax during your free time.