Just because you don’t work in a cubicle doesn’t mean you are immune from the more common workplace injuries. In fact, you may be more likely to suffer computer related injury because you don’t work in a cubicle.
If you’re moonlighting at a work at home job, you’re probably working far more hours than the average office worker, and if you’re on your own then good, ergonomically designed office furniture may not in the budget. Lately, I saw many options for better home office gear, including ergonomically designed workstations or a single Aeron chair.
Workplace Injuries to Watch Out For
Repetitive Strain Injuries.
Also known as cumulative trauma disorder, RSIs include such things as tendinitis, bursitis, de Quervain Syndrome, and a host of other syndromes and -itises that, for the modern information worker, cause pain in the hands, wrists, elbows, or shoulders. Surprisingly, the heavy hitter of RSIs, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, has not been shown to be caused by keyboarding or mousing as previously thought, but is now considered to be more of a risk to assembly line workers and those with a genetic predisposition toward narrowed carpal tunnels.
Extended computer use is the most common cause of eye strain, according to a study by the Mayo Clinic. Eye strain caused by computer use is so common it even has it’s own name: computer vision syndrome. Despite it’s rather foreboding name, computer vision syndrome is easily treated and rarely results in long term damage.
Lower Back Strain.
Lower back strain isn’t generally caused by working hunched over a computer all day, but it certainly isn’t helped by it, either. Poor posture and chairs with little or no lumbar support both contribute to back pain, and if you do have a back injury, can slow the healing process.
An Ounce of Prevention
There are a few changes you can make to your workplace (and habits) to prevent these and other work related injuries.
- Make sure your monitor is positioned so the top of the screen is at eye level. This will help prevent eye strain and neck injuries.
- Keep your monitor dust and fingerprint free.
- Position your keyboard directly in front of your monitor so your eyes don’t have to work so hard to refocus each time you look away from the monitor.
- Get a good, adjustable office chair which allows you to keep your feet flat on the floor and provides some lumbar support. If that’s not in the budget right now, invest in a footrest and a lumbar pillow to help keep your spine stable while you work.
- Lower your keyboard and mouse. Most desks are 28 to 30 inches high, which is too high for comfortable mousing and keyboarding. Install a keyboard tray on the underside of your desk to bring your keyboard to a more ergonomic level.
Beyond the Office
Maintaining your overall health is as important as the chair you sit in when it comes to preventing RSIs and low back strain, so make sure you are eating healthy and getting plenty of exercise. Carrots might not improve your eyesight, but eating a balanced, nutritious diet will improve your muscle tone, bone strength, and your energy level. Combine good nutrition with regular exercise to strengthen core muscles and you’ll likely find that lower back pain fading away.
One other important thing you can do to prevent workplace injuries is to simply get out of the office. Don’t fall into the trap of working all the time just because you work at home. Take frequent breaks, and make sure you are taking days off, just like if you worked for someone else.