Healthy Living

Ergonomic tips, stretches can help you feel better

If your job has you plopped down in front of a computer for hours at a time, you’ve likely experienced pain or stiffness in your back and neck, probably your legs, maybe even your wrists and fingers. Or, everywhere.  I feel your pain, and the good news is, there’s a lot you can do to help you and your joints stay comfortable at work.

Let’s start with a work space ergonomic makeover. Marcy Ledford, a director in Unum’s workforce solutions group, says most ergonomic modifications can be done for free or at very little cost, and offer big benefits.

“Proper ergonomics can help eliminate or reduce repetitive injuries, such as carpal tunnel, epicondylitis (tennis elbow) and tendinitis and can also lessen the risk of symptoms like headaches, wrist pain, back pain, neck pain and eye strain,” she said. “And when you’re comfortable at work, your overall productivity improves.”

Follow these tips to create a comfortable work space

  • Check your posture – Adjust the height of your chair so that your feet are flat and your knees are bent at a 90 degree angle. Your armrests should be positioned to allow for a straight wrist and hand, and your elbow should be bent at a 90 degree angle.
  • Adjust your monitor – Position your monitor so that it’s an arm’s length away from your body. The top of your screen should be at or slightly below eye level.
  • Keyboard and mouse – Your mouse should be within easy reach and on the same surface as your keyboard. Your wrists should be straight when keyboarding and, when possible, use keyboard shortcuts to reduce extended mouse use.
  • Telephone – Keep your telephone close to your body so that you don’t have to reach for it. And when on a call, use a speaker phone or headset rather than cradling the phone between your head and neck.

If you still experience discomfort after making these adjustments, Ledford recommends looking into a specialty mouse or footrest, which are usually less than $100, and chairs and sit/stand workstations.  “These are typically more expensive items; however, the value of making this type of purchase far outweighs the loss of productivity and can really help you feel your best.”

There are also several easy stretches you can do if buying new office equipment isn’t in your budget. But first, you have to commit to stepping away from your computer and taking a brief “ergo break.”

Try these stretches to reduce muscle tension and improve overall circulation

  • Finger and wrist flexor stretch – Straighten your elbow with palm up and point your fingers toward the floor. Use your other hand to gently pull down on your palm and fingers for 10 -15 seconds. You should feel a mild pulling sensation.
  • Low back flexor stretch – Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and place your hands on your hips. Slowly lean back and hold for 10 – 15 seconds until you feel a mild pulling sensation.
  • Hamstring stretch – Stand and place your right heel on the ground in front of you, keeping your knee straight. With a straight back, look up at the ceiling and bend forward at your hips until you feel a mild pulling sensation. Hold for 10 – 15 seconds and then repeat with your left heel on the ground.

“Ergo breaks can improve physical and mental health,” Ledford says. “Standing or sitting in the same position for long periods of time is simply not good for the muscles, and stretching can help reduce muscle tension and improve overall circulation. Eye breaks are also important, as we all have screen overuse these days, and stepping away from a task for 2 to 3 minutes can boost creativity and productivity.”

Everyone is likely to feel some kind of discomfort if you’re sedentary in your 9-to-5, but adopting these basic ergonomic practices should be helpful. Plus, you may be surprised how much more focused and productive you become when your body isn’t working against you.

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