Ergonomics is about work efficiency. It’s not only about being more productive. It’s about reducing injuries and stress to be healthier. OSHA reports that work-related musculoskeletal disorders are one of the most frequently reported causes of lost work time.  Examples of MSDs include muscle strains, carpal tunnel syndrome, and tendinitis. Many work-related MSDs can be prevented by identifying problems, implementing solutions, and providing training. Here are five simple things that many of us can quickly start to reduce muscle strain and tension to create a healthier workplace.

1. Stretch Breaks

Sore muscles occur when muscles remain static. A stretch break alleviates discomfort caused by staying in one position for too long. Start out easy and stretch regularly. If you spend hours staring at a screen, every hour, relax your neck. Simply sit in your chair with good posture. Let your arms rest at your side. Move your head slowly to one side, like you’re trying to touch your ear to your shoulder. Hold for five seconds. Return to your starting position and repeat this on the other side. Drop your chin to your chest and move your head slowly left to right. Return to the starting position. These stretches should not cause sharp pain, but if you aren’t used to moving those muscles, you may be stiffer the first few times you stretch.

2. Eye Strain

To reduce eye strain and dry eye from staring at a computer all day, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends:

  • Put your computer screen about an arm’s length away from your face.
  • Give your eyes a break. Use the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a break by looking at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Your eyes relax when you look into the distance—bonus points for looking at nature, which is also relaxing.
  • Lubricate your eyes with artificial tears or use a desktop humidifier to prevent dry eyes.
  • Keep the screen no brighter than your office lighting, because it causes your eyes to work harder.

3. Proper Posture

Awkward posture causes your muscles to operate less effectively. It stresses the spine and shoulders. Stretching and walking can help you be more productive if you find yourself in awkward positions or fixed positions. Learning to maintain good posture while you work can prevent many MSDs. When you’re sitting, work to preserve the natural curve of your spine. Keep your ears in line with your shoulders. When standing, make your hips align with your ankles. Avoid bending motions or twisting to keep your straining your back. When you lift, use your legs and both hands to pick up items. When you do feel discomfort, change positions, or take a break to stretch. Listen to your body.

4. Take Breaks

Science has long shown that taking a break is great for your mental productivity. OSHA recommends taking a break as part of ergonomically working. Micro breaks of 10 to 15 seconds every 10 minutes give your body a chance to recover from awkward positions and immobility. Every 30 to 60 minutes take a 3 to 5-minute break. Don’t forget to take your regular lunch break to fuel your body. It’s also important to alternate work activities when possible to use different muscle groups. If you work at a desk or a single workstation, that can be difficult, but you can move into different postures throughout the day. Use a stool to rest a foot on for 10 to 15 minutes every hour. Stand up when you can.

5. Proper Desk Setup

The Mayo Clinic recommends a comfortable workstation as part of office ergonomics. Adjust the desk if possible to make sure your knees, thighs, and feet fit have clearance. Your chair should be adjusted to allow your feet to rest on the floor. If you have armrests, your arms should be able to rest on the arms of the chairs without pushing your shoulders up. Your keyboard and mouse should be within easy reach. Avoid extended use of your mouse by learning keyboard shortcuts. Learn to alternate which hand you operate the mouse to give your wrists a break. A headset is better for talking on the telephone than cradling the phone between your head and neck. Your monitor should be right behind your keyboard, at eye level. If you wear bifocals, you may want to lower the monitor about two inches for better viewing.

Give Workers the Tools They Need to Stay Healthy

Whether your team is working in the office or at home, it’s still important to remind them to take time to stay healthy. Short breaks improve productivity, both mentally and physically. Being mindful of your position prevents muscle fatigue and discomfort. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on ergonomically friendly office equipment.

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