Its a basic truth that the human body wasnt made to sit still for too long. We spent tens of thousands of years evolving in an environment that required us to move to find shelter, to catch food, and to keep ourselves safe from predators. Weve only been living lifestyles that allow us to stay sedentary for the lesser part of a hundred years not nearly enough time for our bodies to adapt to this new way of living.
Not all of us make our livings sitting in front of a computer, of course. It is, however, becoming more and more common and many of us then go home and use our home computers to stay in contact with friends and family, study, or play games all of which adds up to a lot of sitting still!
SO WHY IS THIS A PROBLEM?
Our bodies, as mentioned above, were built for movement. Movement encourages bloodflow ensuring our cells are supplied with oxygen and nutrients, and ensuring waste products are collected and transported to where they can be eliminated. Lack of movement leads to cells being both starved of needed nutrients and left to wallow in waste products. When this is then combined with stress-induced muscle tension (which further constricts bloodflow) or lots of repetitive small movements well, Im sure you can see where problems might lie.
These dangers arent news to us. Weve all heard of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS) or WRULD (Work Related Upper Limb Disorder). These are different terms for what is essentially the same problem constant repetition of small movements (like keyboarding, or using a computer mouse) in a context of very few larger movements. Left for too long, this can cause tingling, numbness, pins-and-needles, and gradual weakening of the affected area. And lets not forget that it can also cause intense, debilitating pain, and prevent us from working. OOS is *not* a fun condition to develop.
A 2002 Australian study (quoted on http://tinyurl.com/9o6y6) found that these work-related muscle and soft tissue injuries made up more than 60% of all workplace injuries. Another study (quoted on http://tinyurl.com/dnfwr) showed that out of just over 1,000 questionnaire respondents, over 130 had actually put in compensation claims for OOS and well over 600 others reported symptoms of OOS without claiming for them. These statistics can be very frightening especially for those of us who work with computers on a daily basis, and could lose our livelihoods if we became unable to use them.
HOW CAN WE AVOID BECOMING A STATISTIC?
Research has identified three things we can do to help ensure we dont become one of those statistics: posture, breaks and stretching:
If you dont already know how to sit properly at your computer, its critical that you learn quickly. Most companies have someone in their Human Resources or Training departments whos been trained to set up workstations correctly, and ensure youre sitting properly ask them for a workstation assessment. If you work from home, you can find an excellent article on the subject at http://tinyurl.com/btsse, and a diagram at http://tinyurl.com/d7l5w, or contact your local Occupational Health & Safety office for more information.
Most of us know how important it is to take regular breaks. Simply stopping and relaxing for a few moments every 20 minutes can make a huge difference. Actually standing up and walking around once an hour will do even more. It doesnt have to be far just enough to get you to move, and get your blood flowing a little more freely. Set an alarm on your computer to go off regularly to remind you when you should be taking a break.
The final thing you can do to protect yourself is to stretch out all the muscles and joints that end up cramped up when youre sitting at a computer. Stretching helps relax muscles that have a tendency to tense up, and is probably the singlemost important part of helping you avoid OOS. For a short list of some of the stretches that will be helpful to perform regularly, please click on http://tinyurl.com/7lq9f
NEED HELP PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE?
Just as the dangers of OOS arent news to many of us, neither are the things we can do to avoid it. However, its easy to get caught up in our work in the pressures of looming deadlines. All too often, we sit down with the best of intentions for working safely, then look up and discover three hours have gone past since we last took a stretch break. And then, of course, theres the question of exactly which stretches we should be doing, and making sure were doing them right.