Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Your Ergonomic Writes for Headache-free Adventures

Figure One
In our last blog post, we mentioned the dreaded ‘computer neck’ (see Figure One). Looks awkward, right?

Computer neck is not only awkward, it’s damaging. Each time you hold or move your head outside of an upright position, you put force moments of up to three times (!) the weight of your head through your neck joints (1). And our heads are heavy little melons!

Usually we hold our heads in end-of-range positions for short periods of time – to look down, to reach up. Screen time invariably becomes lengthy, so if your head is positioned poorly, you will strain your neck. Once you get to the point of chronic pain, you’ve already experienced significant changes towards serious injury.

You’ve probably got the idea by now that prolonged sitting (i.e. more than four hours per day) contributes to an array of health issues: tight soft tissues, pressure and strain on joints and spinal discs, reduced cardiovascular fitness, poor circulation, and pain. Often we spend hours each day tapping away on various electronic devices. The secret to prevention: add in activity – and make sure your desk set-up is sound. (Can you guess what’s next?)

Figure Two
Consider Figure Two. This depicts good ergonomic set-up (2). An ideal chair should have fully adjustable lumbar support (forward/back, up/down), backrest and seat tilt, removable (or even better, no) armrests, adjustable seat height, and when you sit with your bottom fully into the chair (don’t perch), the length of the seat should end a couple of centimetres behind your knees.

Adjust your chair first. Once your back is supported and your shoulders and head in a neutral position (think: ‘My head is like a puppet on a string’), adjust the seat height so your hands rest comfortably over the keyboard with your elbows bent to the angle shown.

You shouldn’t be reaching for your mouse or keyboard (your chair should enable you to sit close enough for this – another place where armrests can be problematic), and your elbows should be near to your body, not propped out (including on arm rests!) like wings. Ensure your feet aren’t dangling. Use a stable footrest, if required.

Next, adjust the monitor height so you’re looking at the top of the screen (use a text book or two?), and then treat yourself to a pair of glasses that focus on the screen. (Blink, blink.) Measure the distance to the screen (arm’s length) and give this to the optometrist to make them specific for computing use.

Don’t forget this all applies to laptops as well. (A remote keyboard and mouse are recommended!) Also, good posture isn’t limited to computer work. Jutting out your chin will often cause headaches. Think about your posture when driving, and apply these same ergonomic principles.

Once you’ve got your set-up sorted, remember to take your breaks and keep active. This doesn’t mean you should jump straight from the office chair into vigorous activity. Muscles fatigue when holding sustained postures, even when sitting. Always warm up beforehand and stretch afterwards. Remember, only exercise within the pain-free range (can you hear all the PTs out there groaning?), and if pain persists or is present at night, see your doctor or physiotherapist.

Happy – and painless (physically, at least) – writing!

References:

(1) Oatis, C 2009, Kinesiology: The Mechanics & Pathomechanics of Human Movement, 2nd Edition, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore.
(2) myDr.com.au  2014, Office ergonomics: Workstation comfort and safety,  http://www.mydr.com.au/pain/office-ergonomics-workstation-comfort-and-safety

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 (http://rhizapress.com.au/integrate) and historical fiction (http://www.roseandcrownbooks.com). Her writing is inspired by a passion for family, faith, friends, music and science – and her broad ranging imagination. To find out more visit www.adelejonesauthor.com.

20 comments:

  1. Great advice ladies! Thank you :)

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  2. Thanks so much, Pamela and Adele! Have just gone to get that weighty tome to put under my laptop on my desk so I don't bend my head so much.

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    1. A great idea, Jo-Anne! :) I too have study books and texts under my screen. Works great, and as neck position is so important, definitely worth the effort. With my laptop I do the same and use my remote keyboard and mouse so I'm not reaching for the keyboard. Hope your neck continues to thank you for your efforts over time. :)

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    2. Yes, my computer box works perfectly! Tried sitting at another desk the other day - no remote keyboard and oh, dear, 10 minutes and I was really aware I was Doing the wrong thing!

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  3. Thanks for these tips Pamela and Adele. I quickly learnt that graduated lens don't work well with using a computer screen so now make sure I have 'computer glasses' at the focal length of my screen (rather than at book length) and that has helped a lot. Still have to work on posture and building more activity into my day though.

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    1. It's funny how we have such a 'one size fits all' approach to eye wear. My first encounter with the insufficiency of this was when my mother got graduated lenses. At that time she was doing a lot of sewing and she found the focal length had been determined on general activities, not for a specific purpose. I recall her getting quite frustrated at times as she struggled to thread needles etc. Great to hear you've been so proactive on this. I think too many people just put up with it.

      As for adding activity and monitoring posture, I think that's a constant battle for most people, especially those with writing interests! Even now I find myself sitting for too long or sitting poorly, and have to give myself a prod! Fortunately our family does a healthy amount of activity together, which keeps me moving fairly frequently. Let us know if you strike upon any fantastic tips! Thanks, Jeanette.

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    2. So true about eyewear - it is a very general approach to something most people use for a specific purpose. I had to specifically request the correct focal length and lens strength for embroidery glasses. His idea if 'plenty strong enough' and mine were a long way apart!

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  4. Adele and Pamela, this is great. Thank you. Especially appreciate that picture. I've got some work to do to make some corrections.

    This has been a great series.

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    1. I think we all have work to do, Ian, even when we know better! Pleased you've found the series helpful. Agreed, it's a great picture from mydr.com.au. Shows a good set-up very clearly, and as I've found, pictures like that can be really difficult to find. Many are actually quite misleading.

      All the best with your ergonomic improvements, and don't forget that it can really help to have a 'spotter', as sometimes we don't see things how they are until someone else observes and tells us.

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    2. Glad you have enjoyed it Ian. And Adele's idea of a spotter is good - we do get into habits and we don't even realise it. (like right now - oops - I'll just correct my posture!

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  5. speaking from someone who has headpain due to neck issues (I have Occipital Neuralgia which I Know the Pamela will know what it is) its caused by several issues one being poor posture along with others. I know when I don't sit straight or if I do things wrong my neck will cause more pain and the head pain will rise to up to 7 0r 8 out of ten. Just being in the City different bed and sitting on the bed with laptop and tossing and turning all night due to other issues really caused havoc with my neck and I have to say I am so thankful for the Uni SA Physios who treat public cheaper while they learn. Thanks to them one part of my head pain is reduced. (the tennis elbow on the other hand is flairing like nobodies business).

    I say all this as NONE of you want to get what I have and I know of people who have because of poor posture at the computer.

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    1. We've also learned the hard way that pain caused by nerve damage or entrapment can be extremely difficult to manage,and when it comes to strains linked to repetitive tasks like desk work, prevention is so important. Pleased you've had some success in managing your occipital neuralgia. I know too many people with various nerve related pain who have ultimately had to head down the surgical path or just live on constant (and very strong) pain killers/nerve blockers. Really tough. Trust your elbow settles down soon, too.

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    2. I've seen many people who have suffered from overuse in all walks of life - it can be debilitating!
      Prevention is so much better.
      Did you try using computer keys at all, rather than the mouse?

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    3. I do at times and alternating the mouse. interesting I had a nerve block for the ON yesterday and since then my tennis elbow has been so good a friend was wondering if some of it was referred pain from the neck and shoulder area. yesterday morning I wanted to cut it off in the afternoon it was so much better and today its hardly noticeable

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  6. Oh I still don't think I have the best set-up at home. I'll have to get you two to measure me up next time you're here ;) And I hadn't thought of getting glasses specifically for the computer. Will have to look into that (no pun intended). I like armrests on my chair though as it puts less strain on my back when I get up. Is the suggestion for no armrests mainly so you get get your chair close enough and so you don't rest on them?

    Great series Pamela and Adele. Unless Jo, I think I have to remove one of my tomes to get the screen right :)

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    1. Do you really want to get me started on armrests, Nola??? LOL! Seriously, the reason I do not hold them favourably is that when people have arm rests they can tend to work elbows/arms out (like wings), propped on the rests. Probably not such a deal when lounging in a chair in a relaxed posture, but when sitting in a fixed position for an extended period typing, this 'propping up' of the elbows/arms can cause the shoulders to sit in a bad position (get pushed up) causing muscles in the neck and shoulders to tighten. (For me, I find my trapezius get particularly tight if I hold my shoulders in this position, but of course the other muscles are engaging too, and are also impacted.) And then there is also the capacity to pull the chair in far enough to achieve a good working position. I have noticed though that height may have some influence on this, as taller people when sitting in a chair are literally further away from the armrests than we shorter folk. Maybe they are able to rest their arms more naturally on the supports?

      Definitely worth following up on your glasses. Better to check rather than find yourself straining to sit comfortably. And good luck with that screen adjustment. Just make sure it's not a frequently referenced 'tome'. :) I used my thesaurus under my laptop for a while and it was really annoying to have to pull my set-up down to look something up!

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    2. Note my comment about glasses to Jeanette - I think we all need to be a little more pro-active in our requests to health practitioners (nicely of course!).
      And, yes - -arm rests can make us sit like chickens (flap, flap), but I have not found them nearly as much as a problem as Adele. It could be that I am taller; but most likely I think it is to do with the distance from the side of the chair at which the arm rests are set. If they are close in, they are less likely to cause chicken syndrome. the height is still important - just at resting elbow height.

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  7. Adele and Pam, great post and series! I've learned a lot of valuable information from your posts :)

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  8. Glad you have enjoyed it Narelle! We had fun doing it too. Hope it has helped you set yourself up for many hours of pain-free writing.
    I'll be really interested to see what comes of stand-up desks - but it will take a few years (time to do research, write up a paper) before we hear the final outcome of this. In the meantime, lots variety of postures is the safest bet.

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