Ergonomics: Back to work doesn’t have to mean back in pain

Posted Oct. 10, 2013, at 7:04 a.m.
Adam Levesque of MEMIC's claim department demonstrates proper office ergonomic fit.
Maine Employers’ Mutual Insurance Company
Adam Levesque of MEMIC's claim department demonstrates proper office ergonomic fit.

Back to school and back to work often means more time at a desk and in front of a computer screen. But those old desk-jockey aches and pains don’t have to return with you from your summer vacation.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, musculoskeletal injuries caused by poor ergonomics take nearly 400,000 employees out of work for an average of eight days each year. While many of us can’t avoid sitting in front of a computer for several hours a day, there are ways to decrease your chances of injury and time lost from work or school.

The first step is often an ergonomic evaluation of your work area and your body positioning as you sit at your computer. Here are some recommendations from Allan Brown, chief ergonomist at MEMIC.

— Position your head so your ears are over your shoulders.

— Place screen monitor 18-24 inches from your eyes.

— Adjust your monitor’s height so it’s in direct line of your sight — the monitor’s top line of text should be at eye level.

— Relax your shoulders.

— Keep upper arms in line with your torso.

— Put elbows at 90 degrees with arms comfortably at your side.

— Make sure wrists are in neutral posture; not bent up or down.

— Place mouse on same plane as your keyboard.

— Use a chair with a good lumbar support.

— Keep feet flat on the floor; if your feet don’t reach the floor, use a foot rest.

If you don’t have access to an ergonomics expert or are unsure of your positioning, have a friend snap a picture of you at your workstation to see what your posture looks like.

But perhaps the most important piece of advice is to get up and move. Every hour, take a stretch, go for a walk, talk to a friend, and make sure to get up and move throughout your day. Whatever your new fall routine looks like, make good ergonomics a part of it.

Contributed by Portland-based Maine Employers’ Mutual Insurance Company, which provides workers’ compensation insurance to employers in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York.

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