By Erica Davidson
Most professionals wouldn’t describe a desk job as backbreaking. But for many working men and women, hidden dangers often accompany an outwardly posh nine to five.
Whether it’s typing up a report, surfing the Internet or building servers, you may be putting in long hours in front of your monitor. And although hard work may appear to be the key to career success, it may also be the cause of serious injury, called repetitive stress injury
The cause? Doing the same motion, sitting a certain way or even jamming the phone between shoulder and ear time and time again. These repetitive movements—seemingly innocent on their own—pull the tendons and muscles around your joints. Since you’re doing it constantly, your body doesn’t have time to heal. It becomes irritated, produces fluid, and ultimately—you feel pain.
Repetitive injuries can include:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Disk compression (in back)
- Tennis elbow (epicondylitis)
- Ganglion cysts
- Swollen hands
Understanding the ways your body can be damaged at work, and being proactive in preventing the slowly occurring injuries that can result from bad habits, is an important part of corporate responsibility. But if your company’s not teaching you how to stay healthy inside your cubicle, follow these simple tips to avoid getting hurt on the job.
Tip #1: Stop craning your neck to get a glimpse of the new hottie in accounting.
Repetitive twisting and stretching of the neck and shoulders can cause upper vertebrae damage. Position your head so it is above the shoulders, not forward of them, and avoid holding your phone between the ear and shoulder.
Tip #2: Take lots of coffee breaks.
Get up from your desk frequently and walk to the break room. This will vary your leg position, provide a little extra exercise, and give you an opportunity to hobnob with executives at the other end of the building.
Tip #3: Spread your legs.
Unless you’re a woman wearing a miniskirt, don’t cross your legs at the knee under your desk or in meetings. It can cause pelvic twisting over time. Instead, leave a little space between your thighs, so they are about shoulder-width apart.
Tip #4: Teach your boss the Macarena.
Sitting still for long periods can cause discomfort and muscle fatigue. He’ll get a kick of seeing you dance, and you’ll prevent injuries that can result from sitting in the same position all day.
You can also use stretches to encourage blood flow after long stints behind your desk. Try pulling your shoulders—with arms hanging straight down—up to your ears, and then drop them. Repeat this a couple times, then bend forward at the waist and let your arms hang towards the floor. Roll your back and your shoulders. This elongates your spine and loosens your back from the shoulders to the trunk all the way to the hips.
You may also want to place your palms on the back of your pelvis and lean back from the waist. If you have poor balance, then spread your feet and take a wider stance. This opens up your chest cavity and hips and stretches the spine along the natural “s” curve.
Tip #5: Steal the CEO’s desk chair.
More expensive desk chairs are ergonomically designed to encourage good posture. Odds are, your executive team’s got a whole slew of them. Wait for a board meeting, then swoop in and get a chair that promotes great health.
Tip #6: Stare into space.
Working at your computer for long periods can be a visually demanding task and may cause your eyes to become irritated and fatigued. Give your eyes frequent breaks. Periodically look away from the monitor and focus at a distant point. This may also be a good time to stretch, breathe deeply, and relax.
Tip #7: Keep your feet on the ground.
If your chair isn’t low enough for the bottoms of your shoes to rest squarely on the ground in front of your chair, invest in a footstool. Even an old paper box found in the office can elevate the knees enough to prevent fluid congestion behind the legs or can help avoid cutting off the blood flow in your limbs.
Need additional information about how to stay safe in the workplace? Most human resources departments are happy to help you be healthy on the job. For online information, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s Web site, where you can find additional ergonomics exercises, health facts, stretches and government recommendations on workplace safety.