I can’t honestly say that I’ve suffered a strain/sprain injury, but I know the early signs when I see them. I have the advantage of an education and 30+ years of experience, so I’m able to avoid the progression of such an issue. (Physician, heal thyself! Ergonomist, fix thine workstation!)
I can, however, report that, even with a perfectly-adjusted workstation, it is possible to head down the path of overuse injury. How?
You’ve heard the saying, “You can get too much of a good thing” right? Even if you adjust your workstation perfectly, it’s not natural to use it continuously for 8 hours every day.
- I have a sit/stand desk, and I’ve set it up so the top of the screen aligns perfectly with my eye height, and the keyboard and mouse are at exactly my elbow height. My chair is adjusted perfectly, and my screens are arranged in front of me to minimize my neck demands. But if I sit all day, or stand all day, my body aches!
- My vehicle is adjusted so I can hold the wheel with my arms relaxed at the side of my body, and my back is fully supported, and my legs are in a relaxed and neutral posture. The weight of my head is nicely balanced over my torso – not slouched forward or tipped back. And yet, if I try to drive for 4 hours straight, I look like a little old lady when I get out of the car. It takes me a while to limber up.
- I was responsible for using the weed trimmer last week and so I adjusted my hand position, held it close to my body, and alternated hands as frequently as possible. And yet, I didn’t finish the whole job before my hands were numb and my arms ached.
Am I doing something wrong? I don’t think so. I think the body is simply not designed to do anything for hours at a time. I don’t need long breaks, and I don’t even really need huge changes in posture. If I’m conscious of prolonged demands, stretching and strengthening activities can break up the demands. At my desk, I can stand up to ponder the response to an email, or do some neck rolls with my video shut off during a meeting. In the car, I can do some isometric exercises to work out my thighs or core. I could have pulled some weeds between “whacking” to give my hands a break from the vibration, instead of doing all the trimming first and the weeding later.
Even at exertion levels as low as 5% of maximum strength, the muscles will get tired after a while. So it’s important that we switch it up.
- Alternate between tasks.
- Take micro breaks.
- Change up your posture so you use different muscle groups.
- Use stretches and strengthening exercises to disrupt prolonged tasks.
Sometimes, we need to be responsible for our own comfort. This starts with listening to our body and responding appropriately!