Ergonomic Tips to Prevent Neck, Back and Shoulder Pain

Ergonomic Pain - Neck Back and Shoulder Pain

In our everyday work sphere, we tend to have jobs which require our body to adapt in a certain manner.

We can use ergonomics to help our body adapt to the type of work in accordance with the body mechanisms.

It helps to counter the aches and pains by telling us exactly how should we be approaching our tasks and processes. It helps to fine tune our interaction with the outside unit in harmony with our internal processes.

What causes Ergonomic Pain?

Ergonomic Pain is caused by the presence of ergonomic risk factors.

These include sustained or prolonged posture, awkward or imbalanced posture, forceful exertion, a prolonged contact pressure to name a few.

Most of these ergonomic pain is a direct result of how we treat our body when at work.

One needs to asses the workplace and the type of work to adopt the ergonomic way of working.

Applying simple ergonomic techniques goes a long way to prevent injuries and pains.

Our body is made up of the musculoskeletal system. Musculoskeletal system includes muscles, tendons, nerves, blood vessels, spinal discs, joints, and ligaments

Pains, injuries, sprain, and strains occur if we misuse any of the above in a way that it is not designed for it naturally or put pressure on it for a prolonged time.

The human body does not respond kindly to imbalances and the first signal it gives is of discomfort followed by lots of cells rebelling by releasing natural substance inside the body which results in pain.

If ignored, these minor pains or strains can turn into a serious injury or even permanent loss of function and disability.

Simple changes are bound to make long-lasting impacts. It will increase your efficiency and lead you to complete tasks with great performance.

Also, you’ll see the impact of these changes within days.

In this article, I will share some simple techniques that will help you get rid of common pains such as neck pain, shoulder pain, and back pain.

Avoiding Neck Pain

A neck consists of bones, nerves, muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

Neck begins from the base of the skull and comprises seven vertebral segments with discs in between the vertebrae.

It not only supports the head but allows it to have flexible movements-up down, side, rotation etc.

It also facilitates the flow of blood to the brain.

Causes Of Neck Pain

Lying in between head and back, its health depends upon the movement of the head above and the curvature of the spine below.

  • Neck pain can be caused by the muscles of the neck becoming strained and tired in prolonged position. After long periods of tiredness, muscles become tight and painful.
  • Forward head position causes extra load about 4.5 kgs on the neck causing extra force and stress leading to pain.
  • The neck should remain in a neutral position looking straight. If it looks up or down repeatedly or for a prolonged period, neck pain aggravates.
  • Drinking less water. The spongy discs in between the neck vertebrae have a high water content in them. Less water leads to less strength and flexibility in them
  • Stress causes natural fight or flight response which leads to muscles tightening up and pain.
  • Prolonged use of the phone by tilting the neck or cradling it over the shoulders can cause stiffness and pain.

Tips to Avoid Neck Pain

  1. Position your laptop one arm’s length away from your face. Too near will cause you to crane your neck and too far will result in leaning forwards.
  2. Place it directly in front of you so head neck and torso are all facing one direction. Proper posture is very important to avoid neck pain. Head should be straight, elbows at 90 degrees close to your body, wrist straight, back supported and feet parallel to the floor.
  3. Tilt the top of the monitor until its surface is perpendicular to the line of sight. It will prevent neck craning.
  4. Muscles of neck get tired when placed in a particular position for a long time. Take micro pauses and breaks in between.
  5. Alternate between sitting and standing. If needed, get a standing desk.
  6. Keep yourself hydrated. If you’re forgetful about it, set regular alarms and drink one glass after every 2 hours.
  7. Avoid using your phone for prolonged stretches. When using, make sure your neck is not strained.
  8. Use stress release techniques. Breath deeply. Organise work. Don’t set unrealistic deadlines for yourself.

The above ergonomic tips will help you avoid neck pain in the first place.

And if you’re feeling the pain already, you can couple these above ergonomic tips with a few of the below techniques:

  1. Use positional release technique. Lie down in a dark room with a small towel at the back base of your skull (or a sock filled with tennis balls). Allow it to press gently on the base of your skull. Focus on your breath for 5-10 mins.
  2. Use a good orthopedic pillow if you often get neck pain.
  3. Do simple stretching exercise of the neck. It will help release the tightness.
  4. Sit straight with feet touching floor, hands on thighs. Move head left side. Wait for 30 seconds. Then change over to the other side. Repeat with the other side.
  5. Sit in a relaxed position. Bring ear down towards one shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other side.
  6. Sitting in a comfortable position. Lift the chin towards the ceiling. Allow neck to drop back as much as you can (without any pain). Wait for 30 seconds. Exhale, bring back to the center. Then bring chin towards the chest as far as comfortable. Hold for 30 seconds and release.

( images and stretching techniques are taken from ergonomicsnow.com.au)

Avoiding Shoulder Pain

A shoulder is a ball and socket joint that has three bones. These bones are cushioned by a layer of cartilage.

There are two main joints and are highly flexible.

Causes Of Shoulder Pain

  • The shoulder and shoulder blade is attached to the body by many muscles that insert into the spine, ribcage, neck, and the base of the skull. So if you hold an arm away from the body for example while holding the mouse, it causes these muscles to contract as they support the weight of outstretched arm causing pain. It is called “mouse shoulder pain”
  • Neck problems such as pinched nerves radiate the pain to shoulders.
  • Muscles and tendons from neck till wrists, if they are held tensed in one position for a long time get fatigued and put stress on shoulders. It is called as ‘repetitive strain injury’ or ‘work-related upper limb’ disorder.
  • Imbalances in the shoulder also cause pain if one side is used more than the other. As a result, some muscles become overused and other become weak.
  • Poking chin posture or leaning forwards posture causes a sustained contraction of the neck muscles which radiates down to shoulder and back.
  • Repetitive head motions back and forth, awkward postures, mechanical contact stress such as resting wrists on a hard surface while typing can cause shoulder pain.
  • Regularly Clamping the telephone between ear and shoulder can cause pain.
  • Wrong posture while working on the computer.
  • Hand-arm vibration or whole body vibration caused by driving over rough roads can cause shoulder pain.

Tips to Avoid Shoulder Pain

  1. Correct posture while sitting. Your laptop/desktop screen should be at eye level to a point just below the upper edge of the monitor. Your back should be supported. Thighs should be parallel to floor and feet resting on the floor or on a footrest
  2. Elbows should be perpendicular while typing and as close to the waist as possible. Head should not be looking up or down but straight. The wrists should be straight while typing. It is advisable to lower the keyboard to elbow and wrist level.
  3. Don’t maintain any fixed postures for long times. Take a micro-pause every 30 mins for 30 seconds. Shake your arms and hands.
  4. Every two hours, take 10 mins break and walk around.
  5. Keep some personal things away from you so you have to walk over to get it like water bottle etc.
  6. You can invest in a specially made computer armrest to support arm weight.
  7. You can invest in a vertical mouse or mouse with a trackball that will help keep the strain on your wrist to a minimum. Also, since a trackball mouse is not meant to be moved, it puts less stress on the shoulder.
  8. If you use landline/cordless telephones, buy a headset so that your hands are free.
  9. If you carry a bag on one shoulder, it is better to opt for laptop bags which evenly distribute weight on both. If the weight is big, use trolley laptop bags to remove weight from your torso and transfer it to ground.
  10. Never slouch. It puts pressure on shoulders.
  11. Do shoulder stretching exercises frequently. It helps release muscle tension of shoulder as well as stretches the side of the trunk and upper back.

Avoiding Back Pain

Back anatomy or spinal structure consists of strong bones, vertebrae, discs, and extensive muscles connected with many parts of the body, flexible ligaments, tendons and highly sensitive nerves and nerve roots.

Back protects the spine and nerve roots which transmit signals from the brain to the rest of the body.

It works as a shock absorber accepting jolts and stress as we move around.

The spine makes our body flexible and helps us to bend and twist especially the neck and lower back.

Causes Of Back Pain

  • Poor body posture while sitting, standing, or reclining lead to increase in strain for the back muscles and can bend the spine into positions that causes pressure on discs.
  • Prolonged static postures lead to pain as holding the same position for a long time decreases elasticity and causes strain.
  • Repetitive minor movements like forward leaning and slouching. While we lean forward, gravity tries to pull us forward and lower back muscles are activated to keep us upright. When this keeps happening repeatedly, it weakens the back muscles and causes fatigue.
  • Poor seated posture while driving to and fro from work also lead to back pain. Sitting far away and reaching out to the wheel can cause pressure in the lumbar spine and can stress the neck, shoulder, and back.
  • Lifting heavy objects from the floor can strain the lumbar spine.
  • Poor physical conditions can lead to back pain. Overweight causes extra strain on your spine, especially if there is excess fat in the belly area. To give you a rough estimate, 0.5 kg of extra weight causes 4.5 kg strain on the back.
  • Stress at work or home can cause tension in the muscles leading to tightness and spasms.
  • Prolonged sitting can cause all the weight of the upper-body to transfer from spine to pelvis. Constant load on the spine and pelvis can cause pain.

Tips to Avoid Back Pain

  1. Correct body posture while standing, sitting and sleeping helps keep back pain away. While standing, the spine has a natural ‘s’ shaped curve.
  2. While sitting make sure your head is in a neutral position looking straight. The back should be supported by a backrest. If necessary, use a rolled towel or back pad for additional support. Make sure you Make sure your thighs are parallel to the floor and the feet are resting on the floor. Your elbows should be as close to the body as possible and at 90 degrees to the arms. Also, your work surface should be as high as your elbow.
  3. Avoid slouching or reclining a lot when sitting on a chair.
  4. Make sure you sleeping posture is correct. Sleep on the side with knees bent or on your back. Never sleep on the stomach as that puts a strain on the spine.
  5. Do not sit for long periods. Alternate between sitting and standing.
  6. If you’re overweight, try and lose the extra weight to keep a low strain on the back.
  7. Make a 25/5 principle. Work for 25 mins then get up physically and move around for 5 mins.
  8. Instead of calling or emailing your colleague, walk over to them if they are in the same office/floor.
  9. While driving, sit in a way that’s not too near or too far to reach over the wheel and gear. Use a rolled up towel or lumbar pad to support lower back while driving. Your buttocks should fit snugly into the seat.
  10. While lifting things from the floor, bend your knees and keep the object as close to your body as possible.

Conclusion

If aches and pains do not go away even after following the above ergonomic tips, the matter needs urgent attention of the doctor.

These tips prevent neck, back, and shoulder pain but one needs additional support from the medical field as well if the pain is chronic.

Muscles protect the bones underneath and support the body system. If these contract and are under strain for a long time, they are helpless in preventing injury underneath.

These guidelines will only help if you are truthful to your body and follow them regularly. If you prioritize work while ignoring health, then sooner or later the ill effects will catch up and you may end up losing the very work one strived for.

Listen to your body as you are the best judge of what your body asks for. Make changes accordingly.

Psychological and physiological factors play a key role. For example, if you continuously find yourself indulging in a particular habit which is an occupational hazard, correct yourself and slowly progressively make a change for the better.

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