Officeworks osteopath Tim Hanwell recently told delegates at the Workplace Trends conference in London about common musculoskeletal injuries in the work environment.
1. Levator Scapulae pain
Straining the levator scapulae, found on the sides of the neck, is one of the most common workplace injuries. The causes of straining this muscle include: the mouse being too far away; carrying a laptop bag; wedging a phone between your ear and shoulder; stress/tension; and a cold temperature, which causes hunching. Remedies include supporting arms on the desk while typing/mousing; avoiding wedging the phone between ear and shoulder; keeping shoulder bag weight to a minimum; and stretching the anterior (pectoral) muscles.
2. Neck pain
An offset screen causes this – and poor posture. Looking down at a device is another cause – as Hanwell points out, the head is heavy, weighing around 4.5 kg. It requires a lot of muscle tension to keep it straight. Remedies include: keeping the screen central to reduce spinal rotation; to lean back in your chair; to set lumbar support at correct height and depth; to set chair seat and screen at correct height and use a headset.
3. Lower back pain
Lower back pain is caused by muscle fatigue and spinal stiffness because of a lack of movement – sitting for too long, for instance, which places anterior pressure on discs. Poor core strength is also a culprit. Back pain is the leading cause of long-term sickness in the UK, and was responsible for more than 15 million lost work days in 2013. Solutions include: good lumbar support; taking regular breaks; sitting back in your chair; moving the chair close to the desk; sit-stand desks; and building up good core strength.
4. Tension headaches
Many of the problems above actually lead to tension headaches – including neck extension from poor screen position, an increase in stress levels, background noise, screen brightness and glare as well as dehydration from poor humidity control or poor hydration. Solutions include ensuring that the lower back is supported, reducing glare, adjusting the screen and keeping properly hydrated.
5. RSI (Repetitive strain injury)
This is pain in the forearm muscles and tends to affect the wrist extensor muscles and is often associated with poor wrist angle/choice of mouse/seat height/workload/work pattern. Solutions are often taking regular breaks and treatment and choosing the correct style and size of equipment.