Home Office: Going Ergo
Author: Rebecca Edwards
Have you ever heard of an ergonomist? Me neither—at least until now. Yet, this anthropometrical professional might be your new best friend, especially if you experience any muscle, joint or spinal discomfort or vision problems due to your office set up. According to the October issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, a new study found that workers who received not only new ergonomic office furniture but professional set-up by an ergonomist had fewer symptoms of musculoskeletal pain and eyestrain 18 months later than those workers who had to set up their new furniture on their own based off instructions.
When my neck pain become unbearable (after hours of working at my desk, writing hard hitting stories for loyal readers like you), the closest person I could find to an ergonomist was Dr. Kelley LeBlanc.
LeBlanc holds a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life University, a B.A. in chemistry from Rutgers University, master’s level training in clinical nutrition from the College of St. Elizabeth, and massage therapy certification from the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Her practice, Kelley Chiropractic and Wellness in the Village at Wexford is really her second occupational incarnation. Her first career was a project manager for AT&T and IBM—so she knows what long hours at the computer can do to the average working Joe or Jane.
“Over the last seven years, I have seen a dramatic increase in neck and shoulder problems. People using electronic devices hardly ever hold them at eye level. More than likely they look down, often rounding the upper back into a hunched position,” LeBlanc said. “With upright posture, the head is really just balancing on the spine with little effort. But as the weight of the head shifts forward, the muscles, tendons and joints are stressed by the increased forward load.” Though LeBlanc says this is, “okay for a short period,” she does not recommend sustaining this position for any length of time. “I would say about 50 percent of my patients have neck and upper back issues that are at least partly due to the use of technology.”
LeBlanc goes on to say that patients who type without having their elbows supported, usually complain of shoulder pain, but they point to the trapezius muscles (traps). “The traps are the muscles you want rubbed when you say, ‘rub my shoulders,’” Le Blanc said. “The traps are not designed to hold up your arms for extended periods. Doing so usually leads to trigger points (knots) in the muscle that can radiate pain into the neck, jaw, head and arms. The trap muscles attach to the vertebra of the neck and upper back. If a tight muscle pulls a vertebra out of place, nerve pressure can cause pain, weakness, numbness or tingling in the shoulder, arm or hand.”
Moving to the low back, LeBlanc says sitting at a desk for hours in a poor chair is asking for back pain. “I would say that back muscle spasm due to extended sitting, either at a desk or in a car, is the root of back pain in about 20-30 percent of my acute low back pain patients. The psoas muscle is often the culprit. It attaches to the front of the low back spine, the front of the pelvis and the medial femur. A psoas spasm usually causes severe low back pain or groin pain. If, say, only the left psoas is in spasm, it can wrench the spine, pelvis and hip to that side, exacerbating the problem.” Plus, sitting for extended periods with poor posture can also cause increased pressure on spinal discs, leading a bulging disc.
If any of this sounds familiar, you’re in luck. Here’s how to stop saying, “Ow!” and go ergo.
Ergo Tips & Trends
• Maintain an ideal sitting desk position. Think 90-degree angles. According to LeBlanc, your knees, elbows, and hips should all be at a 90-degree angle. Plus, the chair should allow you to sit with your low back supported against the back of the chair (no perching on the front edge of the chair) and be close enough so that the upper back and head don’t need to lean forward to reach the keyboard or see the screen. The shoulders should be relaxed and dropped and not hunched. The wrists should be in a neutral angle and supported, so the hands are not suspended in mid-air. The screen should be directly in front, at eye level. And avoid using more than one screen.
• Try a yoga ball chair. By simply sitting on a spherical surface, the spine automatically goes into perfect alignment—meaning you have one less task to accomplish in your day because your chair keeps you ergonomically positioned.
• Try a standing desk or treadmill desk. Not only do these options minimize back pain, they are also maximize your fat-burning ability during working hours and can dramatically improve your overall health. ABC News recently reported that, “After several hours of inactivity, studies find that the genes and enzymes regulating the amount of glucose and fat in the body diminish, resulting in fat from the bloodstream being captured and stored by fat cells all throughout the body… the fat that wraps around the organs appears to be particularly damaging to your health. It’s been linked to a wide range of major diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and osteoporosis.”
• Check out Straighten Up America (life.edu/campus-life/campuslife-activities/straighten-up-america). “Dr. Ron Kirk of Life University developed a simple program of stretching, strengthening and balance that almost anyone can do and takes only minutes to complete,” LeBlanc said. “If everyone did these simple exercises daily, it would resolve or prevent many back problems.”
Kelley Chiropractic and Wellness is located at 1000 William Hilton Parkway, Suite K 100, in the Village at Wexford. For more information, visit chirokelley.com or call (843) 321-8119.