The best approach to avoiding musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) is to prevent them from developing in the first place. Excess fatigue and musculoskeletal stress are the basic causes of MSDs. Proper ergonomics design can decrease musculoskeletal stresses significantly, but responsibility for managing fatigue generally falls on each of us.
Musculoskeletal fitness is an important and sometimes highly under appreciated component of overall health and well-being. Wellness, as it applies to strength and conditioning has numerous benefits. It impacts your metabolic capabilities, improving your ability to maintain an ideal body weight. And it has been shown to influence the prevalence and possibly the prevention of many musculoskeletal disorders such as muscle sprains, low back pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, shoulder instability, and knee stability and pain.
Historically, Ergonomics has focused on designing your work area to fit your physical dimensions, as well as the tasks that you perform. However modern Ergonomics has evolved to include a strong emphasis on fitness both inside and outside the office. While design of your work area is very important, and work practices, like taking proper stretch breaks are critical, staying strong and physically fit with a cardiovascular and musculoskeletal strengthening program outside of work increases your tolerance for the stresses of your daily work activities.
Having a formal workout routine helps you improve circulation while increasing strength of joints, muscles and tendons. This in turn increases overall endurance of musculoskeletal system and improves your ability to hold postures (e.g. sitting for long periods, reaching for keyboard and mouse, etc.) for extended periods without injury.
Fatigue is a state in the muscles (and other living tissues) where nutrients are depleted and wastes build up. The muscles function poorly under these fatigued conditions and are more likely to become damaged, resulting in injuries and pain
The Basics of the Circulatory System
Each time a muscle contracts it uses oxygen and fuel from the blood supplied by the circulatory system, and produces waste products that must be eliminated. The heart pumps blood to your muscles and other soft tissue, but at that point its job is basically done. To “wring out” the muscle and get the depleted blood back around to the lungs and heart (venal return) you must have increased extension and contraction of the muscles and deeper breathing. This deep breathing creates a vacuum and draws the blood back around to the lungs and the heart.
One of the challenges of working in an office setting is that there is typically not enough joint/limb movement, nor deep enough breathing to facilitate adequate circulation and recovery.
Staying fit is one of the best ways to increase your ability to work in front of a computer safely for long periods. Even if you are physically fit, fatigue will set in after approximately 30 minutes to an hour of sedentary work. By that point your posture will have degraded to “compensating postures” (e.g. slouching, leaning on arm rests, etc.), and you will be putting stress in some very vulnerable places on your body (like smaller muscle groups, joints, nerves and spinal discs).
Recovery breaks and stretches are designed to optimize muscle recovery through nearly full extension (lengthening and contracting) of the key muscle groups, and deeper breathing leading to increased oxygen in the blood.
The ergonomics team provides an explanation of and some instruction in recovery stretches so you can improve your flexibility, and allow your muscles, tendons, and joints to “recover” regularly during the day.
We can also help you explore ways to make your work area a more “active” and varied work space.
The Ergonomics department at Apple offers periodic workshops on specific, creative ways you can design your work activities and workspace to improve your activity level while in the office.
- Take opportunities to stretch or change your posture every 20-30 minutes
- After each hour of work, take a break or change task
- Always try to get away from your computer during lunch breaks
- Avoid eye fatigue by resting and refocusing your eyes periodically. Look off in the distance to extend focus length, and then close your eyes every hour, each for approximately 20 seconds.
- Use correct posture when working. Keep moving as much as possible.