When most people think of injuries, something traumatic or sudden comes to mind. However, in our Physical Therapy practice we see just as many patients with work related conditions as we do from construction sites. Most people do not view their work at their desk and computer as putting the same level of strain on their bodies as building something or lifting heavy objects. The truth of the matter is that while most injuries at construction sites tend to be sudden, office injuries typically arise from repetitive motions or positions sustained for many hours every workday. Repetitive strain or cumulative micro-trauma can develop over long periods of time, often with a gradual onset. This can make tracking down the exact mechanism of the injury a bit more difficult. We specialize in getting to the root of the problem, not just chasing symptoms. Many times office patients present with pain in their wrists or forearms. While it is necessary to examine the area of symptoms, it is even more important to check and see if this is actually coming from the neck/cervical spine. The same goes for sciatica like symptoms into the leg which people often get from prolonged sitting while at work. These symptoms can be produced by the low back/lumbar spine. Looking at a patient’s symptom presentation in a more holistic manner guides treatment for these conditions and allows for the best outcomes. Here are some common office injuries and tips on how you can keep yourself healthy and happy:
If your posture is bad, there is a likelihood of developing multiple sources of pain. Your neck may begin to get sore. You may feel tightness in your shoulders and pain in your elbows and wrists. You could experience sciatica and even numbness in your feet and toes. These are all signs and symptoms of issues that when addressed with your Physical Therapist may resolve quickly. However, the longer a pain cycle continues the longer it takes to break that cycle and return to a pain-free life. Pain in your neck and shoulders will likely either start due to, or will result in muscle tension. When muscles are strained over time, they don’t have the opportunity to relax, and will eventually become tense and painful as a response. As muscles tense up they don’t get the proper blood flow and lymphatic drainage which then makes them even more likely to become painful! These conditions can result in tension headaches and spasms which can lower productivity. If your neck and shoulders begin to hurt, take a moment and sit up tall with your shoulders relaxed down and gently pulled back.
One of the best ways to keep your posture correct is to ensure that your elbows, hips, knees, and ankles are at 90° angles. Your feet should be resting on the ground or on a footrest. If you are a bit vertically impaired in height, your feet may dangle when the rest of you is lined up with your keyboard and desk at the right height. So having a footrest is an excellent way of maintaining good posture and taking pressure off your lower body while working at your desk. Consider adding a keyboard tray if needed in order to modify your workstation so that you can be in the optimal 90 degree angle posture. Be sure the keyboard tray also has a spot for the mouse at the same level as well. Reaching out to use the mouse can lead to repetitive strain and injury so keep your elbow in close to that 90 degree angle when using it. This may take some getting used-to but will quickly be added as one of your many good habits. If you have the option at work to have an ergonomic assessment for your workstation, take advantage of it.
Many office injuries and conditions are avoidable by paying attention to what your body is telling you, as well as learning the proper relief techniques to use throughout your day. If you feel uncomfortable or out of position, you probably are! You should re-evaluate your working environment and position. Take a picture or a video of how you work and bring it in with you. We will give you some creative ideas to help you be comfortable and productive. Use time in your physical therapy sessions to practice and get comfortable with your new routine. You’ll likely end up in a better position both physically and mentally which will go a long way towards a long and happy life. We look forward to helping you relieve your pain and improve your life.
Joshua C. Anderson, PTA, CKTP, CCI, Cert. ASTYM
Brad L. Bentley, DPT, OCS, CSCS, Cert. MDT, CMP, Cert. ASTYM
Advance Physical Therapy & Sports Rehabilitation, Inc.