Working in an office is no better than working in the field or anywhere else. You can still get injured while sitting in your workstation, typing, and reading. Knowing these common office injuries and how to prevent them could help you perform your work better and efficiently.
Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain is not only an illness of the older generation but also of the younger ones. It is common for those people whose work requires lifting heavy objects like on construction sites. Office work can also cause lower back pain as well as factory work and nursing. In short, any occupation that places significant demands on your back can cause or worsen back pain.
Several factors can contribute to having lower back pain at work, namely:
- Driving for a long time without stopping for a rest
- Lifting or moving a heavy object
- Awkward bending when you pick objects
- When you repeat specific movements that involve twisting or rotating your spine
- Poor posture. When you sit in a slouch or hunch over position, it makes your spine out of alignment that puts a strain on the muscles in your back and on the discs.
People with lower back pain will have one or two of the following symptoms.
- Dull or achy pain in the lower back
- A stinging, burning pain moves from your lower back to the back of your thighs and sometimes into the lower legs or feet. It can include numbness or tingling (sciatica).
- Muscle spasms and tightness in the lower back, pelvis, and hips
- Pain that worsens after sitting or standing for a long time.
- You will experience difficulty in standing up straight, walking, or going from standing and sitting.
If you have experienced some of the symptoms mentioned above, do not wait for it to worsen. You can try the following to prevent lower back pain or stop it from developing into a disability.
- Choose a good seat. If you have a home office, shop for a chair that has good lower back support, armrest, and swivel base. If you already bought one and would not want to spend more or ire working in an office, you can place a pillow, the lumbar pillow would be advisable, but a regular pillow will do rolled towel in the small gap of your back. Doing this can maintain the standard curve of your lower back. Also, keep your knees and hips level. And, as much as possible, change position frequently — at least every half-hour.
- Sit straight. Avoid slumping back or slouching over in your chair. To ensure that you are sitting correctly, position your body along an imaginary straight line. Then, keep your shoulders level and do not let your pelvis rotate forward — doing this creates a curve in your lower back.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor. Use a footrest or a stool can use a footrest or a stool to prevent your feet from dangling.
- Adjust your workspace. Office workspaces are in a unified arrangement. This arrangement means that desks, computers, and seating are the same. To prevent lower back pain, adjust your workspace to accommodate your height and proportions. You can change your chair, so it will give a comfortable reach to your desk to prevent your body from hunching over to read, write, or type.
- Keep yourself healthy, and remember the following.
- Exercise regularly to keep yourself healthy. It can also help you in having good posture.
- If overweight, lose the excess weight since it can put more significant pressure on your back.
- Then, do not forget to take care when lifting heavy objects. Make sure that the knees and hips are bent, not the back.
- And lastly, take regular breaks and move around.
You can try the following if you are already suffering from lower back pain.
1. Cold or Hot Pack
Have ice cubes or crushed ice placed in a plastic bag or cold pack. Then, wrap it in a cloth before applying it to your lower back. Wrap it in fabric instead of using it directly to protect your skin. Ensure that you use it for no more than 10 minutes and give yourself 0-minute breaks between applications. Repeat as needed throughout the day.
For persistent pain, you can begin to apply heat. The same rules apply to the cold pack.
According to the (US NIH) National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture has a moderate effect on persistent low back pain, according to the (US NIH) National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Thin needles are inserted into precise points throughout the body and stimulate them by twisting. Doing so may cause the body to release pain-relieving chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin, and acetylcholine. You need to build up a little bit of courage if you are afraid of needles.
According to a published study in Annals of Internal Medicine in 2011, yoga can have a short-term effect on treating lower back pain. This type of exercise involves slow, controlled movements (stretching) and promotes stress relief, which can help reduce tension in your lower back. The Child’s Pose is a beneficial yoga position for the back.
A doctor may prescribe medication like muscle relaxants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), narcotic drugs such as codeine (pain relief), steroids (reduce inflammation), and corticosteroid injections.
2. Physical therapy
If you don’t want any surgery, your doctor could recommend physical therapy like massage, stretching, strengthening exercises, and back and spinal manipulation.
And for severe cases, one may need surgery. It becomes an emergency option if there is a loss of bowel or bladder control or a progressive neurological loss. Your doctor may suggest any of these options: discectomy, foraminotomy, intradiscal electrothermal therapy (IDET), nucleoplasty, radiofrequency lesioning or ablation, spinal fusion, or laminectomy.
Computer Vision Syndrom (CVS)
According to American Optometric Association (AOA), computer vision syndrome (CVS), also known as digital eye strain, describes a group of eye- and vision-related problems resulting from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader, and cellphone use. And studies show that between 50%-90% of people who work at a computer screen have at least some symptoms.
- Working on a computer or digital gadgets. Looking at a computer or digital screen often makes the eyes work harder. Unlike books, the letters on the computer are not as precise or sharply defined. You have to reduce the level of contrast of letters to the background. Also, the presence of glare and reflections on the screen may make viewing difficult.
- Eye Focus. When working on a computer, for example, typing, you tend to look down at papers and then back up to type. The eyes have to focus and refocus as you do this. They also have to move side to side when you read. As a result, the eyes are overworked. It reacts to continually moving and changing images, shifting focus, then sending rapidly varying ideas to the brain.
- Incorrect prescription glasses. Wearing the wrong prescription glasses while working at a computer adds to CVS.
- Uncorrected vision problems. Vision problems like farsightedness and astigmatism or presbyopia (vision problem caused by aging) contribute to the development of visual symptoms when not corrected.
Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) often has the following symptoms:
- Blurred or double vision
- Dry or watery eyes
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Difficulty concentrating
Get A Comprehensive Eye Exam
Every year make it a routine to have a comprehensive eye exam. Ensure your eye doctor how often you use a computer and other digital devices at work and home. Also, advise him of how far your eyes are from your computer screen when working. In doing so, your eye doctor can test your eyes at that specific working distance.
Use Proper Lighting
When using a computer, your ambient lighting should be about half as bright as that typically found in most offices. Use fewer light bulbs or fluorescent tubes to reduce interior lighting. You can also use lower-intensity bulbs and tubes. Or, you can turn off the overhead fluorescent lights in your office and use floor lamps. Floor lamps provide indirect “soft white” LED lighting that is better for the eyes.
Besides adjusting the light, position the computer screen to the window’s side instead of front or behind. You can eliminate exterior lights by closing drapes, shades, or blinds if adjusting your computer position is not possible.
You can minimize glare on your computer by installing an anti-glare screen on display. Paint bright white walls, if possible, darker color with a matte finish. Then, wear glasses with an anti-reflective (AR) coating lens. The AR coating in the lens reduces glare by minimizing the light reflecting your eyeglass lenses’ front and back surfaces.
Adjust Computer Display Settings
In addition to installing an anti-glare screen on your computer, you can also adjust the display settings like brightness, text size and contrast, and color temperature.
- Brightness: Adjust it so it is approximately the same as the brightness of your surrounding workstation.
- Text Size and Contrast: For comfort when reading or composing long documents, you should adjust your computer text size and contrast settings. The best combination for comfort is a black print on a white background.
- Color Temperature: Color temperature is a technical term used to describe the spectrum of visible light emitted by a color display. When you reduce your screen color temperature, it also lowers the blue light emitted by a color display. Doing this will give you long-term viewing comfort.
- Blink More Often & Exercise Your Eyes: It is common knowledge that you blink less frequently when you stare at a screen. If you do not think blinking your eyes is essential, think again. When you blink, your eyes get moist, which prevents dryness and irritation. If you blink less, the tears coating the eyes evaporate faster, which causes dry eyes. You can do the eye exercises below to prevent dry eyes and other eye problems.
- To prevent the risk of dry eyes, blink ten times every 20 minutes. When you do this blinking exercise, make sure that you close your eyes as if you fall asleep (very slowly) instead of rapid blinking. Doing this will help rewet your eyes.
- To reduce the risk of focusing fatigue, follow the “20-20-20” rule. You have to look away from your computer for at least every 20 minutes and gaze at a distant object, which is at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds. You can reduce fatigue when you look far away since the focusing muscle inside the eye relaxes.
- To reduce the risk of accommodative spasm caused by prolonged computer work, look far away at an object for 10-15 seconds. Then, gaze at something up close for another 10-15 seconds and back at the distant object. And do this ten times.
- Modify Your Workstation: Your workstation also contributes to CVS, and even with having lower back pain, so make sure you modify it to give you comfort. You can consider the following suggestions.
- First, when you are typing, place documents on a copy stand adjacent to your screen. When you do this, it reduces eye strain from looking back and forth between a printed page and your computer screen. You can use a desk lamp to light the copy stand properly. Make sure it does not shine into your eyes or onto your computer screen.
- Next, since poor posture also contributes to computer vision syndrome, remember to adjust your workstation and chair to the correct height. Your back should be straight, with your feet resting comfortably on the floor.
- Lastly, your computer should be 20 to 24 inches away from your eyes. And the center of your screen should be about 10 to 15 degrees below your eyes. It would be a comfortable positioning for your neck and head.
- Consider Computer Glasses: If you are wearing eyeglasses, ask your eye doctor to modify your eyeglasses prescription to create customized computer glasses. Getting computer glasses is the right choice if you are wearing bifocals or progressive lenses. Generally, these lenses are not optimal for the distance to your computer screen. Also, consider using photochromic lenses or lightly tinted lenses for computer eyewear. This type of lens reduces your exposure to potentially harmful blue light emitted by digital devices.
- Take Frequent Screen Breaks: During your workday, take frequent screen breaks. If possible, take screen breaks at least one every 10-minute, every hour. During these breaks, you can stand up, move about, and stretch your body. Stretch your arms, legs, back, neck, and shoulders to reduce tension and muscle fatigue. You can also do eye exercises during these screen breaks.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Another illness you can often get from work is carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive strain injury (RSI). This is a common condition that causes pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the hand and wrist. It was in the mid-1800s when carpal tunnel syndrome was first recorded. And the first surgery performed for the carpal tunnel release was in the 1930s. And orthopedic surgeons have recognized that this condition exists for 40 years now.
This carpal tunnel syndrome happens when there is increased pressure within the wrist on the median nerve. The median nerve connects the hand and forearm with the tendons and runs through the carpal tunnel. It provides sensation to the fingers except for the small “pinky” finger and only half of the ring finger.
Extensive or repetitive use of the mouse, excessive typing, and repeated scrolling and clicking can cause this condition. And any wrist movements that you do over and over. This continuous office work creates pressure on the same few tendons, muscles, and nerves engaged all day long. The repetitive action narrows the carpal tunnel, and this presses down on the median nerve and tendons, which are inside the carpal tunnel. And this makes the median nerve swell, which results in loss of sensation in the fingers and hands.
If you have existing conditions like hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, or diabetes can cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
There are two symptoms of this condition, namely: nighttime signs and daytime symptoms.
Below are the early symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. These symptoms are common since some people sleep with their wrists curled. Often, these are the symptoms that are reported. To relieve these signs (early stage of the condition), shake your hands.
- Tingling and pain in the fingers, especially the thumb, index, and middle finger)
- Tingling fingers
- Decreased feeling in the fingertips
- Have difficulty using the hands for small tasks like:
- Handling small objects or handling a book to read
- Grasping the steering wheel to drive
- Typing (using a computer keyboard)
If any of these signs worsen and becomes constant, you may experience any of these:
> Weakness in the hand.
> Inability to perform tasks that require delicate motion like buttoning a shirt or tying shoelaces.
> You may often drop things.
In most severe cases, the muscles at the thumb base visibly shrink in size (atrophy).
Prevention is better than cure. The following helps prevent getting this condition.
- Keep your wrist straight.
- Avoid flexing and extending your wrist over and over.
- Keep your hands warm.
- Put your hands and wrist in the correct position while you work. You can use a splint or brace that helps keep your wrist in a neutral pose (when working on a computer).
- As much as you can, take breaks so you can rest your wrists and hands.
If you are already suffering from the early stages of carpal tunnel syndrome, you can do the following to treat the condition.
- Lifestyle Change: Take breaks more often if the cause of your symptoms is repetitive motion. Or, you can do less of the activity that is causing the pain. You can change the position of your hands/wrist while doing exercises.
- Exercise: Do nerve gliding exercises to help the median nerve within your carpal tunnel move better. You can also do stretching or strengthening moves, and this can make you feel better.
- Immobilization: Your doctor may advise you to wear a splint to keep your wrist from moving and lessen the pressure on your nerves. If sleeping becomes arduous because of the numbness or tingling feeling, you can wear a splint at night. Immobilization will also let your median nerve rest.
- Medication: The doctor may give you anti-inflammatory drugs or steroid shots to curb swelling.
If the treatments above do not work, you may need to have an operation called carpal tunnel release. This operation will increase the size of the tunnel and eases the pressure on your nerve.
We all know that prevention is better than any cure, so when you feel any of the symptoms mentioned above for any of the conditions, do not ignore it. Ignoring it may lead to severe disease.