by Bethie Walker, a graduate student in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, OH
When most of us think of Labor Day, the first thing that comes to our minds is the fact that we get a three- day weekend to spend grilling out, relaxing with family, or hanging out on the water. Created to honor American workers, Labor Day celebrates generations of hard work and achievements.
This time of the year reminds me of some advice that my dad would often give me that I tend to appreciate more as I get older. He advised that I take some time over the Labor Day weekend to reflect on the work I’ve completed over the past year both in and out of school, figure out what I could have done better, and set goals for the coming year. This year I am adding in a new topic for reflection – how does my body feel at work and when I get home at night, and how can I improve it?
Humans have a remarkable knack for overlooking pain and discomfort until it becomes too bothersome to ignore any longer. As with non-work activities, this also applies to pain which occurs in the work place. Patients often come into the physical therapy clinic and tell us things such as “I’ve been dealing with months of neck and back pain while sitting at my desk”, or “I had to stop lifting anything heavy at work because it is just too hard on my back”. If this sounds like you, I have good news- PT can help! Physical therapists are experts at finding ways to help optimize your movements and improve your function, whether you’re dealing with an incapacitating injury or just some nagging aches and pains.
If you’re dealing with pain in the workplace, are worried about performing heavy lifting or other high demand activities on the job, or are trying to re-enter the workforce after an injury related absence, a consultation with your physical therapist can be a great place to start. They will be able to find areas that need to be stronger or more mobile and give you advice on ways to reduce strain on your body while performing your tasks.
To keep your body functioning well on the job, here are a few tips to help optimize your movement and positioning:
- Posture is Key- Make sure your desk area is set up to reduce the amount of strain placed on your back, shoulders, and neck. Your computer should directly in front of you and no more than 30 inches away, with the top 1/3 of your screen at eye level. Your keyboard and mouse should be positioned as close to you as possible so that your elbows can rest at about 90 degrees of bend. Your upper and lower back should be against the back of the chair, and both feet should be resting flat on the ground.
- Move Frequently – Generally speaking, the human body was designed to move and tends to get fussy if it is stationary for too long. If you must spend the majority of your day sitting, try to get up and move around about every 30-60 minutes. This could be as simple as standing up to readjust your posture, walking to the water fountain or restroom, or performing a few exercises at your desk when you start to feel stiff. If you want to get a little more bang for your buck, try knocking out 10-15 deep squats once an hour. You’ll be amazed at how much more mobile your back and hips feel afterwards.
- Move Intentionally – If your job requires a lot of bending, squatting, or lifting, make sure your back is straight, your abdominal muscles are engaged, and you are bending through your knees and hips to lower yourself down. Bending forward only at your hips places a lot of strain on your low back and can lead to overuse injuries if repeated for a length of time. Keep any item you are lifting as close to your body as possible and be sure to breathe as you lift or carry items. Any easy way to remember how to stay safe when lifting loads is to lift and carry items like a tyrannosaurus rex. Those short little arms do a great job of safely keeping loads close to the trunk and minimizing stress on the spine.
Pain in the workplace should not be a part of your daily life. As we celebrate workers and reflect this Labor Day, I hope you’ll take a moment to assess whether you are feeling your best at work. If you have aches and pains or trouble completing your job activities due to movement difficulties, schedule a visit with your physical therapist to get your body back on track!
Bethie Walker is a graduate student in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, OH. She is currently working on a student affiliation at Northern Michigan Sports Medicine Center in Petoskey. This information is not to be considered medical advice and is not intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical professional.