Hopefully you have had a chance to think about how you sit at your desk and are a little more self-aware. Our aim for this article is to help you to get a better understanding of your body and why you may be experiencing pain or discomfort at work.
Our bodies are not designed to sit for long periods of time and therefore our muscles get tired. The first muscles that start fatiguing are our core stability muscles; the ones that help hold/stabilise our spine in the neutral position. As a result we end up slouching and start to compensate by using other muscles. These muscles become overloaded and painful. This is exacerbated if we are sitting at awkward angles as certain muscles are either overstretched or shortened, causing them to become weaker/less flexible, and predisposing them to injury.
The constant tension in these overloaded muscles is known as muscle spasm. With muscle spasm, the muscles remain in a sustained contraction, and blood flow to the tissues is compromised. This means there is a decrease in oxygen and nutrients and a build up of waste products. This leads to the development of the painful ‘knots’ in your muscles. These are muscular trigger points which can cause local or referred pain. Referred pain is pain experienced away from the source of pain.
The bodies’ natural response to pain is to tighten around the injured area so as to provide a protective splint. This results in the pain-muscle spasm cycle as shown in the diagram below:
Muscle Contraction & Spasm
Decreased Blood Flow & Increased Wastes
As you can see a vicious cycle develops. Muscle spasm makes one more prone to injury as the muscle becomes less flexible
Repetitive movements such as typing can cause the build up of small trauma and breakdown eventually occurs. This is exacerbated if these small movements are performed at awkward angles with no breaks. These disorders are known as Cumulative Trauma Disorders (CTD’s) or Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI’s). They develop gradually and can affect muscles, tendons, joints and nerves anywhere in the body. To avoid CTD’s, your body needs time to recover. Insufficient recovery time deprives the muscles of oxygen and allows waste products to build up over time. This leads to fatigue in the early stages and possible injury later.
￼ Constant input into the body with repetitive movements and no relief can result in Cumulative Trauma Disorders
Practising good ergonomics can prevent and ease these problems:
sit in the correct posture
make sure your workstation is as ergonomically sound as possible
be aware of optimal ways to use your desktop equipment
Make sure you take adequate work breaks.
Empowered with this new knowledge, you have the ability to affect positive change!
In the next few articles we will look at common injuries that occur in the work place and how to prevent and manage them.