Ergonomics: Posturing for Good Heath
3 min. read
Research shows that poor posture could hurt your paycheck. Poor posture has a long résumé of repeated stress injuries, including career-ending nerve damage to the neck, shoulders, arms and hands, says Roy Cardoso, M.D., a board-certified orthopedic hand surgeon, affiliated with West Kendall Baptist Hospital.
“A human body was not meant to sit in front of a computer for as long as possible,” Dr. Cardoso says.
Consider the numbers. Damaged nerves, muscles and tendons are known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSD). In 2011, MSD cases accounted for 33 percent of all injuries and illnesses reported by workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What’s more, workplace-related cases of MSD injuries are among the most common reasons for lost or restricted work hours.
To prevent and reduce work-related injuries, many companies (such as Baptist Health) offer employees ergonomic reviews. Ergonomics is a process of creating a workspace with tools to accommodate the needs of an individual. For instance, an ergonomics expert will adjust or purchase the appropriate chairs, lights, computer screens or specialized keyboards to improve employee health and productivity.
“Ergonomics helps lessen muscle fatigue, increases productivity and reduces the number and severity of work-related [injuries],” the Labor Department reports.
You can help yourself with the right knowledge. Dr. Cardoso offers insights about reducing workplace injuries.
Who is at risk?
No one is exempt. Writers, accountants, laboratory technicians, plumbers, electricians, gardeners, bus drivers and factory workers are all vulnerable to repeated stress injuries. Any profession or hobby that involves repetitive motions for long stretches of time places you at risk for nerve damage in the neck, hands, elbows and shoulders.
The constant use of cell phones (calling, texting or surfing the Internet) creates added pressure in vulnerable areas.
What role does posture play?
“Think of your nerves as a garden hose,” Dr. Cardoso says. “When you step on the hose, pressure builds up because you are constricting the passageway. Poor posture pinches and constricts your nerves just like a foot on a garden hose.”
You have a network of nerves that extend from the neck to your fingers. Along that route, your nerves can get pinched at several places, especially if you’re hunched over a computer or working in a lab with small tools. There’s added pressure if your elbows or wrists are bent for long periods. That posture creates pain, additional inflammation or numbness.
What are some of the common injuries or conditions?
Here are a few:
Carpal tunnel syndrome: The wrist area is narrow. But with overuse, the carpal tunnel region can become even more congested and restrained. Repeated motions — typing, knitting or even gardening — can lead to hand pain and numbness.
Cubital tunnel syndrome: This injury involves pressure, pain and inflammation in the tissue and nerves surrounding the elbow.
Frozen shoulder: Repetitive activities and inflamed nerves can add to a pre-existing shoulder injury. Your shoulder can freeze when an escalating cycle of pain and inflammation develops and reduces the mobility of the shoulder joint.
What are the treatment options?
A patient can sleep with night splints around the hand, wrist or elbow. A splint places the joint in a neutral (unbent) position, which relieves inflammation and pressure on the nerves. A night splint also guards against additional injury caused while you toss and turn during sleep. Physical therapy, another option, improves mobility and strength. In some cases, your doctor might suggest weight loss to reduce joint pressure.
If those methods fail, anti-inflammatory steroids are injected into the affected area. An injection reduces pain, pressure and inflammation in the nerve tissue.
“If nothing else works, then surgery,” Dr. Cardoso says, adding that minimally invasive surgery can release nerve pressure with minimum wear and tear on your body.
Finding an effective treatment plan is important, Dr. Cardoso says. If left untreated, inflamed nerves can lead to muscle damage and permanent loss of feeling in the affected area.
Prevention, he says, is the best cure. Remember to take frequent breaks and to stretch when you’re working at a computer or engaged in a repetitive task. Make sure your workspace works for you. Learn how to properly carry and lift packages. And finally, listen to your parents and watch your posture.
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