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Physio Facts

The Importance of Workstation Ergonomics

Janine Moolman

November 2013

Did you know that a poorly designed workstation can result in computer-induced medical problems? Do you experience back and neck pain at the end of a working day? Do you struggle with headache that usually start late mornings and gradually increase through the day? What about itchy eyes or a tingling sensation in your hands and arms?

 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you have to continue reading!

Common computer-induced medical problems:

There are three main medical problems that can be caused by using computers:

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a stress-related injury caused by repetitive movement of joints, especially the wrists. Poorly designed workstations and extensive typing over a long period of time with the wrist placed in an abnormal position, is often the cause of this condition. A study that was done (Computer Use and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A one year follow-up study) show that one in eight computer users suffer from CTS. Common symptoms of CTS are tingling or numbness in your fingers, especially the thumb, index, middle or ring fingers, not the little finger. These symptoms occur when holding a steering wheel, phone or newspaper, or in the mornings upon waking up.
  • Computer Vision Syndrome is a degenerative eye problem which can result in reduced eyesight, blurred vision, overall eye tiredness and even glaucoma. The most common form of computer vision syndrome is a condition termed Dry Eye. Dry Eye causes itchy and sore eyes. It is caused by looking at a computer screen for long hours without a break.
  • Musculoskeletal problems. The most common areas affected in computer-users are the back and neck. Symptoms include headaches, limited range of movement in the neck and shoulder pain. The most common cause of these complaints is sitting hunched forwards to be closer to the screen, a desk that is to low/high, using a chair that does not support the lower back or the chair cannot move closer to the screen due to armrests that are fixed. This results in abnormal posture where the upper back is rounded and the chin poking forwards. Muscle imbalances are caused by poor posture, especially the postural muscles that have to keep our body in a normal posture with minimum input. The initial complaints will be stiffness and slight pain after a day’s work. It will progress to intermittent pain during working hours. The next phase is constant pain and limited range of movement of the head, especially turning the head sideways.

Ergonomically designed workplaces are the best solution to all the problems mentioned above. Medication will only bring temporary relief.

Benefits of an ergonomically correct working station are as follows:

  • A healthy workforce. If the equipment used is ergonomically correct, it will reduce the strain workers experience due to repetitive use of computers and other office equipment.
  • Enhanced productivity. Easy to use equipment keeps the work momentum going on for longer durations. Workers experience less fatigue.
  • Reduced number of sick days reported. When an employee’s workstation is ergonomically correct, there will be less strain on the body. The physical complaints will be fewer and the number of workdays lost will decrease.

 

Guidelines for an ergonomic workstation:

  • Furniture: Use furniture with adjustable height. Your arms should comfortably rest on the desk. Adjust your table or chair height if your hands bend up or down while typing. Chairs should be comfortable, have adjustable backrests and provide lumbar support. Adequate lighting save employees from squinting while working on the computer. Move the screen slightly to overcome the problem of light glare from the monitor.
  • Computers and accessories: Buy approved well-established products. Determine the actual issue to be resolved before buying equipment.
  • Workstation arrangement: The user must be centrally placed so he/she can have easy access to all the equipment in the workstation. Place the monitor at an arm’s length and the top of the computer (not the screen) should be level with the eyes. Never position the monitor too close to the face.
  • Posture: When typing, your wrists should flatten out as much as possible. Your body should be well supported in your chair. This means that your back should rest comfortably against the backrest. If this is not possible, your chair is not suitable.
  • Breaks: Take short breaks every hour. Stretch your arms, wrists and neck. It is also important to exercise your eyes. Look at far away objects and blink rapidly for a few seconds every 15-20 minutes.  This relaxes the eyes and replenishes the moisture necessary for keeping them lubricated.
  • Exercise: A combined stretch and exercise routine is important in the prevention of repetitive strain injuries. When you take a break, stretch your arms and wrists.

Remember, every moment in life counts, the eight hours you spent at work as well. Make sure that your workstation puts a smile on your face. You might just get a bonus for being a happy employee!

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