One of the many hats I get to wear as the owner of two wellness companies is that of an “expert” in ergonomics; an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely (Webster’s Dictionary). This term has been quite the buzz word over the past 20 years and as such, the desire people/companies have to create this utopian work space has become somewhat of an urban legend. Meaning, we actually believe it exists, so we exhaust every opportunity to discover it.
Last week I was asked by a local bio-tech company to speak with an employee who has been plagued by pain in her upper back and between her shoulder blades. They wanted me to help her resolve this issue. The initial question I have for these companies is, “Are you looking for me to provide solutions that are expensive but trendy or inexpensive and based in reality?”. Most of the time I get an awkward and uncomfortable silence on the other end of the phone. Of course, they would rather not spend company money, but they want the employee to see that they care so shouldn’t they be buying her a new [chair] [desk] [lighting]?
The fact of the matter is quite simple. If you sit for more than 45 minutes in a static position, your body will begin to ache. If you do this for longer it will ache more and more. I don’t care if you have a $3000 chair, a $5000 desk and every other top of the line ‘ergo-friendly’ piece of equipment at your disposal. Lack of varied movement causes pain. Period.
When I entered this woman’s office, she had everything set up ‘correctly’ (based upon ergonomic recommendations). So why is she having pain between her shoulder blades and pain in her legs? Simple. She doesn’t move. Once I explained to her what was happening to her body and then demonstrated a few simple movements to alleviate her symptoms, she already felt better. Upon taking a more detailed history, she revealed she spent up to 4 hours a day commuting to and from New Hampshire.
Instead of selling her products that will inevitably be deemed useless, I empowered her with the simple logic of movement and postural cues/reminders. I peeled a green dot sticker from the roll of stickers I carry and placed it on her monitor. I said, “This sticker serves as a reminder that you need to move; stand up, stretch, get some water, walk to a person’s desk instead of emailing them, etc.
She said, “it’s like a light bulb has gone on in my head. This makes complete sense, and it’s so simple.”
Using this little sticker as a “postural cue” will signal a reminder to her brain to encourage the tips I showed her to vary her movements. Over time, she will have less and less symptoms of pain.
As I packed up my things, I gave her a few stickers to take with her to place on her dashboard or even at home on the television. Total cost for this “ergonomic solution”? less than a penny.
1. Move or stretch at least 3-4 minutes every hour.
2. Hold a walking meeting.
3. Organize group walks during lunch or breaks.
4. Add steps to your day the easy way, park further away!
5. Walk to communicate instead of calling, emailing, or texting.
6. Take the stairs to another floor’s restroom.
7. Take the stairs when traveling less than two flights.
8. Get off the elevator 2 or 3 flights before your floor and take the stairs the rest of the way.
9. Do partial squats or calf raises while waiting for the copier/microwave/fax etc.
10. Keep a resistance band to perform strengthening exercises in your office.
11. Create and maintain a daily activity routine at work.
12. Keep an exercise log and try to increase or maximize your move time each week.
13. Wear a FitBit and set daily step goals.
14. Get competitive: see who can walk the most steps each week.
15. Move your feet by doing ankle circles or flexing them up and down to improve circulation.
16. Take a breather. Do 5 minutes of silent meditation while standing.
17. Eat your lunch away from your desk.
18. Stand while participating in a phone conference or webinar.
19. Exercise with a buddy at work.
20. Start or join a mid-morning stretching group.
21. Perform a 10-minute yoga session in your office during your break.
22. Be sure to stretch your wrists, arms, and neck muscles after long hours of typing and mousing.
23. Take a 5-minute break and dance to your favorite tunes.
24. Do jumping jacks in your office.
25. Walk to get more water and stay hydrated