Tuesday 17 March 2015

Pre-POSTURE-ous Perils of Ineffective Ergonomics – Part 1

"What do you mean, you can’t sit at a computer for more than five minutes before you’re in excruciating pain?"

Imagine enforced restriction of technology usage – and if you persist, being in such pain you can scarcely function. As writers, this is the stuff of nightmares!

For our family this nightmare became a reality seemingly overnight, when my husband fell victim to a repetitive strain injury. Of course, initially we didn’t understand his intense neck, back, shoulder, arm and hand pain was caused by a strain injury. Eventually we came to understand that this was also not an overnight occurrence, rather the consequence of long-term, inadequate ergonomic management.

Rehabilitation was slow, painful and frustrating (a right pain in the neck, really ...), but over those years (yes, years) we learned many lessons, including:

a) People generally have little idea of the severity of chronic ergonomic-related strain injuries
b) Symptoms attached to muscle and joint strain caused by poor ergonomics are many and varied
c) These diverse symptoms can be mistaken for more serious medical conditions and the wrong treatment instigated
d) These types of strains are highly preventable

This might come as a shock, but we’re NOT intended to sit all day!!! This of course gets tricky in a world where most endeavours revolve around some form of technology. Let’s face it, our lives are becoming increasingly sedentary. A static lifestyle enables joints to stiffen and soft tissues to shorten and tighten, which can lead to inflammation and pain cycles (ouch!). To maintain flexibility of soft tissue and joints our bodies need to move. A lot!

Physiotherapists have seen firsthand the impact of recognised pain syndromes associated with prolonged technology use. Little twinges can swiftly escalate into persistent aches, and these can include:
• muscle and joint pain
• headaches
• chest, neck, back, arm and shoulder pain
• nausea
• numbness, weakness and tingling in hands, wrists
• burning and tingling in feet, hips, legs and gluteals
• fatigue
• bruising of muscles
• swelling, inflamed and stiff joints
• intense nerve pain

To keep strains and pains at bay, prevention is paramount. Don’t ignore early pain indicators – they won’t go away!

In the writing industry we spend hours sitting at a computer or using other electronic devices. This puts us in a high risk category. For this reason we must be informed about ‘writing risks’ and adopt preventative measures, including appropriate health regimes. Over the next few weeks we’re going to explore keys to minimising the risk of ergonomic related strains and pains. Make sure you join us for these practical and informative tips for keeping ‘write on track’.

About the Authors

Pamela Heemskerk has worked as a physiotherapist for over 25 years and has seen firsthand the impact of relatively recent, recognised pain syndromes associated with prolonged use of technology – occurring even in young people. She has undertaken further training in the field of education and is also passionate about educating the community in the effects of hearing loss. She is a keen artist, working primarily with watercolours, and has had numerous short works published.

Adele Jones is the wife of a rehabilitated repetitive strain casualty and has been active in organisational work health and safety roles. Having witnessed the consequences of ergonomic neglect, she is an advocate of sound ergonomic practices. She writes a variety of short works, YA novels ( and historical fiction ( Her writing is inspired by a passion for family, faith, friends, music and science – and her broad ranging imagination. To find out more visit


  1. Great post about a neglected issue. I've found that ergonomic problems can also exacerbate existing problems, making them much worse. It's not too hard to set up a regular work station so that it's ergonomically sound, but I find it's easy to forget that when doing other tasks, like reading a book or using a tablet PC in a different location. Looking forward to your tips. Any chance of donating a free massage to the person with the most scintillating comment? ;)

    1. Absolutely right, Nola. I've also found if I'm not set-up quite right, then I start to notice pretty swiftly due to complaints of already 'twingy' joints. I think it's also important to realise our ergonomic set-ups can take a few goes to get right, and they should be regularly reassessed, especially when we're changing from one device to another. As for that massage, are you suggesting a make your eyes water, spring you to the ceiling, deep-tissue remedial massage? (Seems to go hand-in-hand with my physio visits ... but once they've extracted me from the light fittings, I do feel better ...) ;-)

    2. That sort of massage sounds great. Let me know when you're free :)

    3. Nola, you are so right in saying that we forget to transfer our skills from the lovely ergonomic computer set-up that we carefully planned (!) to another type of technology (or book).
      Holding i-phones, i-pads etc at just below your chin a helps keep your neck straight. Use your fingers, not thumb to type message to avoid "blackberry thumb". (yes , this is now a recognised condition). If you need to do a lot of texts/emails using an i-phone type gadget, by far the soundest ergonomic practice is to make a phone call!

      A separate keyboard with a lap-top is really, really important. Some lap-tops have screens that separate from the keyboard so you can put the screen at the right height for your eyes, and type on the keyboard at the right height for your hands.

    4. Hi Nola, you are right - it is hard to remember to transfer the lovely postural set-up at your computer to another gadget. It sounds a bit crazy, but I often think of it in the same way as 'practising the presence of God' but 'practising the presence of good posture' - mindfulness I guess.
      I-pads need to be set up on the table at correct height. I-phones etc should be held just below the chin, and the fingers used to type (to avoid 'blackberry thumb' -yes, it is a recognised condition!). by far the soundest ergonomic practise is to make a phone call instead of lots and lots of texts.

  2. Thanks for that important post Adele.

    1. Definitely important that people are aware of how to prevent these kinds of strains. Thanks for commenting, Dale.

  3. Hi Adele,
    Yes, this is information we all need to hear. I do get aches and pains, but I sit on a cheap IKEA kitchen chair at the computer, which is probably not wise. I notice mostly when I rise, after sitting hunched forward for a time. It's interesting how you point out that these sorts of RSIs can be mistaken for something completely different, leading to fruitless medical tests which are a waste of time. I think I've been there too.

    1. Hunched over, Paula? Hmm some serious seating issues here! Is your table too low?
      Yes, musculo-skeletal pain can mimic a number of other disorders - hence the importance of a thorough assessment by a good practitioner.

    2. Ah, you beat me to it, Pamela! :) When you mentioned 'hunched', Paula, I was quite concerned. And I'll bet you're not the only author writing under similar conditions! Our bodies are quite resilient, but as we found out, those aches and pains that grow over a long period of time eventually get to a threshold point where something can give. Will send some resources your way and hopefully help set you on the path to excellent ergonomics! :)

  4. Adele and Pam, excellent post! Thanks so much for visiting ACW and sharing your expertise with us. I don't like sitting down for long periods of time and I make a conscious effort to move around at least every hour, if not more often. I find breaking up my writing stints with housework also works well.


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