How to Not Wreck Yourself at Work

As part of a year of physical therapy I’m undergoing–about which I’ll be writing more soon–my doctor paid me an office call to evaluate my ergonomic situation. While I had spent plenty of time writing, I’ve not really worked an office job until I started working at the Daily Planet about 2 years ago. I used to do a lot more physical jobs: acting, teaching, and many service industry jobs.

Not moving around as much while working, I began to notice I was experiencing more pain in my neck and back. I’m sure this was exacerbated by running and lifting weights. Also, I’ve had a number of injuries I decided to “walk off” and they came home to roost.

If like me you feel like a door stop is wedged mid-way down your back or in a disc between your cervical vertebrae, then learning how to sit at a desk and not wear yourself out is key.

The first thing Dr. Castiglione mentioned was actually sitting in the chair. Not scrunching forward. Getting over the idea that people will think you are lazy if you sit in the chair is needed to do this. I tended to sit “straight” and not use the back of my chair at all. My office chair has crazy lumbar support too so that’s missed opportunity.

Three-point sit: make a tripod of your knees and bum. Your seat may need to be lowered and/or your feet firmly planted on an elevated surface. Ultimately, your knees should be higher than your bum. This helps you sit back in your seat.

The shoulders should be at 90 degrees and the arms should be resting. Your keyboard or other work paraphernalia should come to you so you don’t need to bend forward to it.

The screen should be placed so that your eyes are level with the top third of the screen. That’s where you tend to look at most.

Get your papers and whatnot up off the desk. Looking down a lot can turn you into a humpback.

Balance your brain by loading your non-dominant side. Put your phone, notebook, everything you can over there. If you click with a mouse all day, learn to switch to the other hand. Dr. Castiglione suggested playing Mindsweeper with your non-dominant hand to get used to it.

Exercise your eyes. Look off in the distance or at something colorful like a painting every hour. I stare at the screen for 5 hours at a time and then my brain hurts. He also suggested sitting in a dark room or using an eye mask to block out light for 2 minutes.

Avoid carpel tunnel by bending your hands against the side of your desk or put a rubber band around all of your fingers and stretch them out several times.

Take effective breaks. Walk the floor, go around the block, use some stairs, or “go bust a co-workers chops.”

Smile. Put up things that make you happy in your workspace.

After just a few shifts using these ideas, I’ve notice I’m not as exhausted like I’ve been holding myself up against my will. The trick is not losing the good ergonomics while being caught up with what’s on the screen.

Happy working.