Ergonomics: Not Just a Question of Posture, spring 2001

Sure, it's important to make sure that your desk and chair at work are set up to avoid injury on the job. But did you know that your risk of workplace injury is also related to factors outside the workplace? It's true--like most health problems, workplace injuries reflect the way you live your life.

Workplace-related disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive motion injuries develop very slowly and gradually. You don't just type up a memo and find yourself with wrist pain. Repetitive-motion injuries are "cumulative trauma disorders"--the logical result of day after day of typing on a poorly positioned keyboard or straining your neck to see the monitor.

But they're also the result of day after day of trying to meet unreasonable demands made by an angry boss, or languishing in the boredom of a poor career choice. It turns out that workers diagnosed with repetitive-stress injuries are commonly plagued by stress and boredom. Workers who feel pressured are less likely to pay attention to their posture or take breaks, and may strike their keyboard harder and more frequently. As a result, they suffer back and neck pain and sore wrists and elbows.

Workplace injuries are related to your overall sense of well-being, and the extent to which you care for yourself. Not surprisingly, this extends outside the office into areas such as fitness and the leisure activities you enjoy in your spare time. People who are generally physically fit are far less likely to be injured at their desk, since their muscles are stronger and more flexible, and since they enjoy healthy blood circulation.

So when considering your risk of workplace injury, be sure to pay attention to factors outside the office. Are you happy with your job, or do you find yourself venting your anger at your boss by pounding on the keyboard? Are you in generally good shape, or do you suffer from lower back pain due to too many hours hunched over surfing the Web?

Don't spend your off-hours doing the exact same thing you do at work. Get out into the sunshine and flex those muscles. You'll beat stress, improve your posture and rev up that circulation. Exercising and taking care of yourself is the key to good health both on the job and off.