Change The Way You Move At Work

Therapydia Work Injury Treatment

Developing an ergonomic and workplace injury doesn’t just have to do with heavy lifting or bad posture at a desk. Even if you’re moving around on your feet all day, you may still be at risk for developing some repetitive movement injuries. If you work in the service industry, you may feel like there’s no way to avoid certain tasks that may be contributing to daily aches and pains. We usually move without thinking—which may not be the best thing if we’re moving in a way that strains our bodies. Our bodies tend to do better with more neutral movements. Unnatural movements like constantly lifting, reaching, or holding objects on a daily basis may overexert your muscles and lead to injuries you probably didn’t even know you were developing. A lot of employees within the hospitality and service industries are at risk for sprains and strains, simply from moving the wrong way. Even quick breaks to stretch and walk around can make a huge difference. Beyond that, you can be at top level performance at work without having to worry about those constant aches in your neck, shoulders, arms, and back.

If You’re At The Front Desk

If you usually work at a workstation or behind a desk, keep to general ergonomic tips about adjusting your desk space. Keeping your body as relaxed as possible is critical for this type of environment. Unnatural positioning when using your mouse and keyboard can potentially cause carpal tunnel in your wrists. It also puts you at risk for tennis elbow, which causes the muscles and tendons around the elbow to become inflamed. Just moving your mouse and typing on your keyboard the right way makes a huge difference.

Tips For Your Mouse, Keyboard, & Computer:

• Place pressure on the palm of your hand, don’t hold mouse too tightly
• Keep mouse and keyboard at elbow height
• Type with straight wrists
• Keep your computer screen at eye level

Tips For Your Chair:

• Keep thighs horizontal with room for knees under desk
• Keep neck and shoulders relaxed
• Don’t stoop forward, keep to good posture

Taking the time to relieve neck and shoulder tension could prevent any postural misalignments that could occur in your upper spine. One way to release tension throughout your entire spine and chest area and also improve posture is to stretch backwards. Counter a long day of hunching forward and flexing your spine with a quick break.

Quick Stretch Break:

• Get to a comfortable standing position
• Keep your feet hips-width apart
• Bring your hands up over your head with palms facing forward and thumbs hooked
• Begin to bend gently backwards
• Remember to breathe deeply as you do so

After sitting for a long time, this could be a good way to extend your posture. If you have back pain related to stenosis, remember that you should avoid bending backwards altogether.

Serving Is More Strain Than You Think

A lot of service industry jobs involve being in strenuous positions for most of the day. If you think about it on an ergonomic level, there’s a lot you personally can do to minimize the amount of stress you’re putting on your muscles and joints. Our bodies move and function the best way in natural positions. Carrying trays, plates, or bottles of beverages aren’t exactly the most natural ways for your body to hold weight. Waiters and waitresses have to contend with carrying a lot of weight balanced on one arm, which has the potential for injury.

How To Hold A Tray:

• Keep your position as neutral as possible
• Keep hand firm but relaxed on bottom of tray, don’t tense your fingers
• Keep your wrists straight and upper arm vertical
• Hold the tray as close to your body as possible
• Balance the tray on both your arm and hand
• Alternate which arm you use so you don’t overuse one arm
• Carry fewer plates at a time, ask other servers to help with larger orders

Pain because of these repeat movements might be felt in the the wrists, elbows, or shoulders. This might eventually put a server at risk for developing an overuse injury such as carpal tunnel, bursitis, or tendinitis around a joint. Servers are at risk for carpal tunnel symptoms progressing to the elbows as well as the wrists because of the way they hold heavy trays. Doing some wrist stretches during breaks can help relieve built-up tension in your wrists, your elbow, and general forearm musculature.

Quick Stretch Break:

• Extend your arm forward, hold your hand straight out, palm down
• Use the opposite hand to grab the back of the hand and the fingertips
• Pull the hand towards your trunk
• To stretch other side, flip your palm over and repeat the movement
• Hold for 10 seconds on each side

Pouring & Shaking

For servers or bartenders who work with heavy jugs, coffee pots, or bottles of beverage—keep to general tips about how to hold weight.

How To Pour:

• Hold jugs, pots, or bottles close to your body when carrying them
• When pouring, move the glass or cup as close to you as possible
• Don’t overreach with a full jug

For bartenders, they also have to worry about reaching for heavy bottles of premium liquor and constantly shaking drinks filled with heavier ice (which is similar to the motion of a baseball pitch). With all that shaking, they’re at risk for tendinitis in the elbow or the shoulder. If you’re a bartender, thinking about the way you shake is critical. You need to get the maximum impact from the way you’re shaking, but don’t let it impact your body as well.

How To Shake:

• Keep your shoulders and wrists as flexible as possible
• Stretch when you can
• Focus on which muscles you’re putting the most force on
• If you feel more pressure or force in one area, direct the pressure away
• Switch hands when shaking, vary your shaking routine

A common injury bartenders are prone to is shoulder tendonitis. Doing some external shoulder rotations to strengthen the muscles of the rotator cuff around the shoulder will help strengthen and stabilize your shoulder joint.

Quick Workout Break:

• Lay on your side with the knees bent and a dumbbell in the upper hand
• Start small with the weight if you’re just starting out
• Bend the elbow to a right angle
• Keep the upper arm supported on your side with the dumbbell hovering in front
• Rotate the shoulder to pull the lower arm and dumbbell up
• Pull so the they are level with the top side of your body
• Slowly return down to the starting position

Keep Moving, Stretching, and Walking

Remember to take as many breaks as you can. If you’re on your feet all day, invest in good shoes that have some arch support and aren’t too pointed at the tip. Most servers or front desk workers have to stoop forward to speak with customers all day, which puts strain on their lower back. Comfortable shoes can go a long way in helping decrease lower limb and lower back pain. Get up, move around, throw something away, go to the bathroom, take a quick walk around your office space—whatever you can do. If you’re working the front desk, make sure you take the time to relax your hands. Be mindful of which positions feel awkward or uncomfortable when going through your work day, chances are, there’s a way to correct your movement to make it more natural. That way, you can avoid the aches and pains that come along with your specific job duties.

Right Workstation, Wrong Posture

chair posture ergonomics

Did you finally buy that top-end office chair only to find out that your neck and back still hurt during the day?

High end office chairs often come equipped with contoured lumbar support which is fine, but truth be told; the best lumbar support comes from you supporting yourself with your own muscles.

The quickest way to stop hurting yourself at work is to lift your chest, slightly tuck your chin back and gently feel the muscles of the low back lifting the pressure up off your sit bones.

Standing is better than sitting – however bad standing can still result in many of the problems found with sitting. Your muscles are designed to lift the pressure off of more delicate structures such as joints and cartilage. Your muscles can help protect your delicate joints but only if you consciously use them.

Using Technology To Help Chronic Back Pain: A Physical Therapist’s Thoughts on Lumo Lift

lumo lift back pain posture

I was fortunately gifted a Lumo Lift a few weeks ago. Lumo Lift is a small device that clips onto your shirt and it uses subtle vibrations to remind you to straighten up when you slumping into poor posture. You can also customize your experience—from a 3 second vibration delay to 10 minutes— set goals, and track your physical activity through the Lumo Lift App. I instantly took it out of the box, downloaded the app and followed the simple setup instructions. I wore the Lift all day for three consecutive days and tracked my steps per day and posture. Then I passed off Lumo Lift to one of my patients suffering from chronic low back pain.

Why Exercise Isn’t Always Enough For Back Pain

I often tell my patients that they need to incorporate a systems based approach to stopping their low back pain.  Specific exercises are important to gain the flexibility, strength and coordination needed to facilitate proper posture with sitting, standing, bending, sports performance, etc.  However, my professional opinion is that exercise alone does very little to keep lower back pain from reoccurring.  

Ultimately most chronic back pain cases persist because patients are constantly causing irritation to their lumbar spine without realizing it. Poor posture is the number one cause of back pain. Bone spurs and disc bulges are now largely believed to be predictable responses to the way we distribute forces across our spine.  Research tells us that sitting in a chair and slouching puts a lot of pressure on our spines. Not surprisingly, most patients with back pain say that sitting causes more pain than standing.  

The Patient’s Result

My patient with low back pain wore the Lumo Lift for five days and very surprised at how often he was falling into poor postures. He believes that the gentle vibration from Lumo Lift has in fact decreased his lower back pain and made him more mindful of his positioning.  

I plan on continuing to send patients home with Lumo Lift.  I always tell my patientsit only takes one unfortunate episode of slouching or bending over the wrong way to set off an episode of acute back pain.  

Lumo Lift seems like an easy, consumer friendly way to help reinforce proper static seated and standing postures.   

Stop “Hanging Out” on Your Joints

thoracic and neck posture

Growing up, our parents and teachers nagged us to sit up straight. And they were right to do so. I see people hanging out on their joints all the time, instead of utilizing their postural muscles to keep them upright. Improper posture not only puts excessive stress on your joints but also your ligaments and muscles, too. Over time, this could result in damaged joints, increased pain, or poor movement patterns. Although we know it’s important to have proper posture, why is it so difficult to do? Our lifestyles and technology work against our efforts to have better form. In this post, I’ll focus on our lifestyle choices that impact our joints and will post a follow-up blog post on how technology impacts our joints.

Shoes Impact Foot Muscle Development

We start wearing shoes before we can walk causing us to never develop the muscles in our feet. The benefits from the support provided by our shoes is offset by the lack of development in our foot muscles resulting in flat, unresponsive feet. Collapsed arches can occur through “hanging out” on the arch to hold your body weight up. This will stretch the ligament supporting your arch, eventually resulting in a flat foot. This why a lot of people are not ready to transition to “barefoot” running or a minimalist shoe because they can’t control their feet.

foot posture collapsed arch

Knee and Pelvis Lockout

At the knees, a person can lock their knees out into hyperextension causing posterior knee pain. I commonly see people hang out on their hips to the point of pain or discomfort and then when that occurs they switch over to their other hip until that one hurts.

knee posture hyperextension unlocked

In addition to their knees, people also lock out their pelvis in an anterior tilt thinking this is good posture until their back hurts, or they posteriorly tilt, sitting on their sacrum (a non-weightbearing bone) until their back hurts. Our lifestyle of sitting in our car, at desks or in front of the table at dinner time coupled with improper posture can lead to hip and back pain. Moving up to the thoracic spine where people hunched over and it looks like gravity is just beating them down. Since everything we do is in front of us, we let our shoulders fall forward, which perpetuates the issue at the thoracic spine, followed by protruding the neck and extending at the base of our skull just to look forward!

hip posture

Improve Your Posture Today

Although it’s easy to fall into bad posture patterns, there are many exercises that can help people of all ages improve their posture, awareness, and to combat the technology and lifestyles we have been enjoying. Here’s an exercise you can do today to improve your posture:

posture ergonomics kona hawaiii

  • Find a bare wall and place your low back flat against it, bringing your feet away from the wall to make this easier.
  • While holding the low back flat, bring your shoulders and head to the wall. Do this by bringing the shoulders down and back and performing a chin tuck at the neck.
  • Holding this for a count of 10 seconds for 10x is a good way to turn on the postural muscles and place you in a better position.

Read this post to find out how to make free and cheap workplace ergonomic improvements. Give us call or email us if you would like to work on your posture and we would be more than happy to assist you on your journey!