Reducing Work-Related Back Pain
A Dangerous Place
With the spotlight on ergonomics issues lately, the modern workplace has been labeled "dangerous" by the press. Today's office workers—;whether they spend their time in skyscrapers or home offices—;are learning the hard way about work-related health disorders.
An office worker can spend from 25 to 40 hours a week in a static position working at a computer. Traveling to and from work may involve a long journey either sitting (or standing) on a train or bus with little room for movement. After a long work day, it can be far easier to sit and eat dinner in front of the TV, spending the rest of the evening sprawled on the sofa, than to get some exercise.
Back pain is one of the most common work-related health problems, yet it is one of the most easily prevented conditions. In the United Kingdom, the charity BackCare estimates that back pain and related illness cost businesses $10 billion annually through absenteeism.
Ergonomics in the Office
The modern workplace is full of new ergonomic dangers and pitfalls that call for safety measures. Just as new information technology is a source of danger, it is also part of the cure. Telephone headsets, such as the ones manufactured by Plantronics, are a prime example of a safety enhancement accessory that can be incorporated into the office environment to improve ergonomics.
Once worn only by telephone operators back in the 1960s, headsets are now found in offices around the world—;and with good reason. According to a Santa Clara Valley Medical Study, headsets reduce neck, upper back, and shoulder tension by as much as 41 percent. An additional study by H.B. Maynard & Co., Inc. concluded that adding hands-free headsets to office phones improved productivity by up to 43 percent. Headsets are also known to reduce the chances of work-related physical disorders, specifically injuries of the neck and upper body, and have resulted in reduced workers' compensation costs.
"Unlike manual worker safety, the issue of occupational injury among office staff is still not taken seriously enough by employers", said Elizabeth Simpson MCSP, SRP at the European Institute of Health and Medical Sciences. "This is partly because the injuries caused by bad telephone habits cannot be seen and take time to manifest. Research has shown that the use of telephone headsets can reduce neck pain, back pain and headaches in subjects who use the phone and computer simultaneously for a minimum of two hours a day."
A Pain in the Neck
Telephone handsets can cause the most significant work-related disorders of the neck. Squeezing a handset against the shoulder and neck routinely for long periods of time can cause discomfort and structural tissue damage. Headsets can greatly improve head and neck posture, while providing additional freedom for the worker and consequently improving productivity. Headsets can alleviate stress on the neck for all-day users, as well as for those who use the telephone sporadically throughout the day.
Upper Body Disorders
Upper body disorders, medically referred to as "musculoskeletal disorders," represent a variety of problems involving repetitive stress injuries of the tendons, muscles, nerves and supporting structures. They can range in severity from occasional to frequent, or from annoying to debilitating.
Upper body and extremity disorders have been studied for many years. Most often such studies have focused on the arms, hands, wrists, shoulders and elbows. Literally volumes have been written regarding the specific disorders associated with these body parts, such as carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrists, epicondylitis in the elbows, and DeQuervains disease in the hands.
A recent publication of NIOSH (1997) reviewed more than 230 research studies of work-related disorders of the upper extremities. Among these studies, 89 of them included investigations of work factors relating to disorders in the neck and shoulders. The review committee for this publication concluded that there was "strong evidence that high levels of static contraction, prolonged static loads or extreme working postures . . . increased the risk for neck and shoulder musculoskeletal disorders."
A Call for Awareness
Although awareness of ergonomics in the workplace is growing, it lags behind the need to holistically revolutionize the way we work. Health problems often set in before potential dangers are realized. In effect, employers, healthcare providers, physical therapists and employees can be blind-sided when staffers are physically impaired on the job site. The prescription—;set the right direction to reduce the risks to workers by doing tasks more effectively with the proper tools, and provide the appropriate education so workers can use new technologies safely.
Thanks to Don Morelli, Certified Professional Ergonomist and Elizabeth Simpson MCSP, SRP at the European Institute of Health and Medical Sciences for their help with this article located at Plantronics.com.