Office Ergonomics (Part 3 of 3) – Move Safely

Office Ergonomics…it’s more than just a split keyboard – Part III

As you know by now, at ErgoRisk we believe that injury prevention can be encapsulated into 3 simple ideas:

  1. Prepare and Maintain the BodymoveSafe_poster_big3_office
  2. Prepare the Work Area and Equipment and,
  3. Moving Safely, with the correct postures and movement patterns.

In part 3 of this 3-part blog post, we will review the ‘Big 3’ Fundamental Safe Postures for office work. We believe that safe posture movement can be distilled down into these 3 simple principles:

  • Stable Base
  • Shoulders Anchored
  • Arms at Sides

Let’s look at each concept in a bit more detail.

Stable Base. It’s not realistic for anyone to maintain good positioning if they don’t start with a stable base of support. For seated posture, this means having your full foot (toes and heels) firmly supported on the floor or a footrest and your thighs well supported by the chair seat pan… before you ask, the following are NOT examples of a stable base:

  • Tippy toe touching
  • Feet on base of chair
  • Legs crossed under the desk
  • Perched on the front edge of the chair with feet flat on the floor
  • Slouched down in your chair with thighs hanging off the front edge and feet flat on the floor.

We understand that as humans, we are fidgety, and we may move through some or all of these postures over the course of the day. A short duration in any one of the postures above is not a big deal, but try to avoid having them be your usual working posture.

Shoulders Anchored. Active contraction of postural muscles gets tiring over the course of the day, so it’s important that you sit back against the backrest of your chair, anchoring the base of your shoulders blades against the backrest for optimal support. You shouldn’t have to pin your shoulders back, but if your chair back is properly adjusted and slightly reclined, gravity will help keep you comfortably in contact with the backrest. When your shoulders are anchored, and you are sitting slightly behind the vertical plane, this tends to align your head in an upright position, which minimizes slouching and hunching through the upper back. The following are NOT examples of anchored shoulders:

  • Sitting perched forward in the chair without any contact with the backrest (regardless of how upright your posture is, this requires constant static muscle contraction which is fatiguing over time)
  • Sitting with your head and upper back hunched forward away from the backrest (think squinting forward to see the monitor)
  • Sitting bolt upright with your chair back also bolt upright or even tilted slightly forwards. Again this requires constant static muscle contraction to stay upright in contact with the chair backrest. If you relax in this forward tilt position, gravity will make you hunch forward.

Remember, anchored shoulders are relaxed while in contact with a slightly reclined chair backrest.

Arms at Sides. To reduce stress to the neck and upper back, arms should be relaxed near the sides of the body when working. Ideally forearms should be supported on the chair armrests or the desktop but arms can also be supported against the sides of the body, as is the case for most people when typing. To reduce stress to the forearms, wrists and hands, there are a couple of things to add – most notably, wrists should be straight when viewed from the top or side when mousing or typing. Bent wrists, particularly if combined with compression against a hard surface, can lead to wrist, forearm or hand discomfort. The following are NOT examples of good shoulder, arm and hand posture:

  • Reaching forward with elbows forward of your stomach to access the keyboard or mouse
  • Reaching sideways, with elbow away from the side of the body to use the mouse
  • Hunching forwards resting your forearms on the desktop to support your upper body when working
  • Moving the mouse with ‘windshield wiper’ sideways movements while anchoring the underside of your wrist on the desktop
  • Resting down on the underneath of your wrist with wrist bent upwards

Instead try the following:

  • Lightly rest your forearm on an armrest or desktop and let your wrist float or glide over the work surface when typing or mousing.
  • Move the mouse with a combination of wrist and forearm movement. The movement should not just from the wrist, but from the elbow and upper arm as well.
  • Rest on the sides of your hands, palms facing inwards, which is a neutral position for the wrist and forearm, whenever not actively typing or mousing. Frequent microbreaks in this neutral rest position will reduce stress to the forearms, wrists and hands.

Maintaining the ‘Big 3’ safe movement fundamentals will be made easier if you take the time to:

  • Prepare and Maintain your Body to allow tissue recovery and reduce build up of stress, and;
  • Prepare your Work Area and Equipment to support you in these low risk postures.

Implementing all three of the MoveSafe™ main elements will let you “Give your body what it needs…and still get your work done!”

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