Ergonomics and Chronic Pain

Ergonomics can either be part of the problem or part of the solution in chronic pain, especially chronic back and neck pain.
Engineer feeling lower back pain after a long work dayErgonomics is the study of how we work and what the environment is like where we work. Not taking care of your spine during the work day can lead to chronic back or neck pain—because that's 8 hours of poor posture, muscle tension, straining to see the computer screen, etc.

However, ergonomics can also help you avoid some forms of chronic pain. If you make a conscious effort to practice good ergonomics every day, you can possibly prevent chronic muscle tension and back pain caused by poor posture, among other forms of chronic spinal pain.

If you already have chronic pain, good ergonomics may help control your pain and help you get through the work day.

Who Cares about Ergonomics?

Some chronic pain patients end up not being able to work because of their pain. If you're in that position, talk to your doctor, physical therapist, or occupational therapist. Taking into consideration your symptoms, pain level, job requirements, and treatment plan, a medical professional can help you figure out how and if you can return to work—if you'd like to.

Ergonomics is More Than Good Posture

Although good posture plays a big role in ergonomics, especially for office workers (you'll find tips below for non-office workers), ergonomics is more than just sitting up straight.

What you're sitting on also makes a difference. To avoid chronic back pain or to help control your chronic pain, you should have a good ergonomic chair. Unfortunately, there isn't one perfect ergonomic chair for everyone, so you'll have to do some research to find the best chair for your body (Goldilocks knows what that's like). This article on choosing the right ergonomic chair is a good starting place for your research.

Once you have an ergonomic chair, you need to sit in it properly. That is—if you're still hunched over, even the best chair won't be able to help you avoid pain. You should set up your desk so that you don't have to hunch. For example:

  • Put the computer monitor directly in front of you and at eye level. That way, you don't have to twist your neck or look down or up to see the screen. Keeping your neck in those positions for an entire work day will cause pain.
  • Make sure the keyboard tilts down and slightly away from you. Typing on it then will keep your hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders well-positioned.

Another good ergonomic tip for office workers: take breaks (that's also a good mental health tip). Sitting in one position all day will create or aggravate pain, so taking breaks throughout the day will keep you moving and should keep your muscles from becoming too tense.

Ergonomics for Non-office Workers

Ergonomics also applies outside of the office. To avoid injuries that can lead to chronic pain, you should practice good ergonomic principles for your profession. Those vary: what's good for a truck driver is different from what's good for a landscaper. You can talk to a doctor, physical therapist, or occupational therapist about how to take care of your body while doing your specific job.

Updated on: 04/22/19
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