Health Issues at Work
Office workers don’t often consider their workplace a health hazard—after all, we’re not out on a construction site, fighting fires, or doing anything we’d consider remotely dangerous to our physical health. And yet, hour after hour of computer work can cause health hazards—carpal tunnel, eyestrain, and back pain among them. The good news is there are things you can do to improve your chances of living a healthy, productive in-office life. Here’s a look at four common complaints and how to prevent and treat them.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
What It Is: Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by activities that use vibrating equipment or that involve repetitive movements (like typing). The repetition compresses the nerve in the wrist and causes a tingling or numb sensation in the hand and fingers, as well as pain and weakness.
How to Handle It: Reduce the risk of irritating your carpal tunnel nerve by taking frequent breaks from repetitive activities, by stretching often, and by alternating tasks like typing with other activities like organizing the clutter on your desk. If symptoms worsen, consider wearing a splint at night to keep your wrists in a neutral position while you sleep.
Ulnar Nerve Entrapment
What It Is: Ulnar nerve entrapment causes a numbness and tingling in the nerve that runs from your elbow to your pinkie finger and is not unlike the feeling you get when you hit your funny bone.
How to Handle It: The culprit behind this nerve entrapment is keeping the elbow at an exact 90-degree angle for extended periods of time. So if you suffer from ulnar nerve entrapment, following workplace ergonomic guidelines is key to improving your condition. For starters, you’ll want to adjust your keyboard so that your elbows rest slightly above your wrists and hands. And if symptoms worsen, a physical therapist can also help by providing stretches and exercises such as nerve glides that will strengthen the arm and relieve numbness and pain.
Neck and Back Pain
What It Is: Just like it sounds—pain and/or stiffness in the neck and back as a result of working long hours at the computer or working the phones.
How to Handle It: Start by trading your hunched, rounded shoulder posture for an upright position. After addressing your posture, return to those workplace ergonomics. Your knees should sit slightly lower than your hips, your feet should rest flat on the floor, and your computer monitor should be directly below eye level to prevent future back and neck pain. Finally, if you frequently talk on the phone and type or write at the same time, switch from a handheld phone to a headset to prevent neck pain caused by cradling the phone.
What It Is: Strain and fatigue from spending long hours in poorly lit offices or from staring at a computer screen.
How to Handle It: Improve your lighting conditions by investing in a task light for any noncomputer work—there’s no need to read reports using the light from your screen or a dull overhead bulb. Then, check your computer monitor to make sure you have a new LCD screen; they are easier on the eyes than old-fashioned tube-style monitors. Finally, reduce eye fatigue by taking frequent breaks and by looking away from your computer to a distant object every 20 minutes or so.
One final note
Computer-related injuries can feel silly and less serious than other occupation-related injuries. However, they can become serious if you don’t deal with them. If you’re facing serious pain, becoming increasingly weak, or noticing a decreased productivity, see a doctor to help restore you back to your hardworking self.