Thursday, March 01, 2007

Ergonomics, Obeying the Natural Laws of Work to Avoid Injury

There is a Chinese saying that "To go beyond is as wrong as to fall short". In other words, how long can you tap on that keyboard or sit in that chair before you hurt yourself.

We are not designed to remain as sedentary or perform the fine motor movements for the long uninterrupted hours that we have to do in so many of our jobs. Evidence suggests that prolonged abnormal posture and repetitive movements contribute to neck, limbs and back pain. These conditions are collectively known as overuse syndromes or repetitive stress injury (RSI).

RSI is no small matter. It accounts for 34% of all lost-workday injury and illness and costs almost $20 billion annually according to the Bureau of Labor statistics. The National Academy of Science concluded that an estimated $50 billion is lost by businesses every year from sick leave, decreased productivity and medical costs linked to repetitive stress disorders. The Academy has published 2 reports since 1998 which directly links repetitive motion to work place injury.

The damage sustained from RSI is due to structural changes in the muscle fiber as well as due to decreased blood flow. Nerves can also be involved. The immobile tissue and surrounding inflammation compress the nerve which can cause numbness or tingling and eventually weakness if the nerve is damaged severely.

For those of you who need the evidence see Overuse syndrome: a muscle biopsy study. In this study biopses were taken from hand muscles of injured and normal subjects. It demonstrated the structurall damage in the muscle fibers and correlated the damage with the severity of the injury. In another study Chronic trapezius myalgia, biopsies were taken from neck muscles, and reduced local blood flow was demonstrated in the injured areas. The greater the pain difference, the greater the reduction in blood flow.

Some of the most common RSI injuries are tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Work-related carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) now accounts for more than 41% of all repetitive motion disorders in the United States according to Concurrent Medical Disease in Work-Related Carpal Tunnel Syndrome . Hard work never hurt anyone: or did it? is a recent review of occupational associations with soft tissue musculoskeletal disorders of the neck and upper limb that sums it up in its title.

So what should you do? The key to treatment is prevention. Research shows that injuries decrease and productivity increases when employers encourage stretch breaks and stress the importance of ergonomics. -S. Iserphagen.

A few tips are the following:
--Breaks should be taken every 30-45 minutes for at least 5 minutes. If you need assistance there are free downloadable timers that will help remind you to do so.
--Stretch your arms/hands/neck/back during the breaks. This yoga site demonstrates some samples exercises. Other sites are listed below.
--Posture alignment should be maintained. Don't slouch in the couch with the laptop.
-- Work station should be reviewed initially and with each transfer.
Adjust chair, monitor, keyboard, mouse, laptop. Alternate keyboards and mice periodically.
--Shift your gaze from the computer screen to the distance. Don't forget to blink!
--Limit non-essential computer usage. This may be heresy but give the surfing/gaming/emailing/text messaging a rest.
-- If pain occurs or persists, see your doctor who may recommend wrist brace, ice packs, anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen, cortisone injections, physical therapy, and most importantly rest to allow healing. Do not procrastinate in addressing your symptoms. The sooner the better.

Some sites that may be helpful:
Harvard RSI Action
RSI exercises
RSI Page
Safe Computing Tips
Alternative and Ergonomic Keyboards
Alternative Pointing Devices
Work Station Guide

Photo courtesy of

This post is from a year ago, but due to recent questions about neck, back and wrist pain I am reposting it. One of these days I will put categories on the blog so that these posts are easier to find.


Anonymous said...

Where did you get that girl... i need some at my office.. :)

But you are right... i sit 16-20 hours a day behind my pc or laptop..

I t doesn't make your body better..

Jay Blogger said...

I have big ergonomic issues at work and home right now. I've just started to see a theraputic massage specialist to work on a few things. That gives me more relief than anything else I've tried lately.

BTW... Congrats on getting listed as a Blog of Note!

The Real Assassin said...

That is what i call keeping it realz

Dear AL said...

Hi, do you understand Furbish?

Anyway, great blog you have here, Taraneh! Now I know why I have these problems, need to get off my arse!

W. Thomas Miles said...

Yeah, I sit at the computer for hours a day - and have been for years...

I do tend to get up and move around more and it has helped me.

Great info!

Sumer Sethi said...

great info.. i think it is useful for all including me who sit on the computer for hours... thanks

Craig C said...

Nice pic!

Flexibility is a good asset to have at work.

ampraxius said...

I really like using wireless keyboard with a track ball attach. Helps me relax a bit by able tolie down and type at the same time. Or try to do what the girls is trying to do.

Lito said...

Little's Blog Things could certainly say that picture surely tell's a thousand words about ergonomics.

High Power Rocketry said...

I love that pic :)

Welcome to the blogger front page :)


Food Thoughts and More said...

explain in regulars words HR negative receptor breast cancer

I've had the lump out, lymph nodes and everythings else is clear and I have a heart deficiency

Oli said...

Have to admit that RSI is a huge problem, dont see it going away in the near future though!

strangely enough any batand ball sport, from golf to baseball, is meant to be beneficial for rsi, apparently it uses different muscle groups and helps to keep them balanced, it is more office roumor than fact, but it could e worth looking into if you think you may be starting to suffer from it!

Ramblings of an Office Worker

Anonymous said...

The observation looks so awkward but at least she is smiling. Thanks for the reminder and Im sure Jay thanks you too. Time just slips my mind sometimes. Like now, Ill have to work on that especially tomorrow.

How I Died Today said...

having just spent the weekend uploading photos on my computer, and then not being able to zip my jacket on Monday without pain, I am grateful for your post.

Bubblewrap said...

Thanks for your post, Dr.Razavi.
Nice to have you googlized.
Pirooz bashid !


Brad said...

I like your quotes "To go beyond is as wrong as to fall short". Keep the nice work up. If you are looking for more weight loss help then you can get it from Weight loss Site.

BonusMaster said...

Great article - approx 3 times a week I will be at my desk for several hours. In the evenings I play in the occasional poker tournament. Some of these tournaments last 7-8 hours particularly if you get near the big money. The sites only give you one 5 minute break each hour but you have an option to fold your hand if mother nature calls or you need to get up and do something.

I have started a campaign to the sites to extend the rest period by 5 mins each hour for this very reason.


Greg H

Sarah said...

Hi Taraneh! I'm so glad I found your blog! I have been recently feeling pains in my wrists as I'm typing away at work and at home. I type alot! I had to report it to my manager, so that just in case if it gets worse, they already know about it. They are going to have an Ergonomics person come in and show us how to avoid injuries. This should be available for all types of business, especially those that sit in front of the computer for hours at a time. Thank you!

OhPunk! said...

What an interesting picture for RSI - lol!

** Shaun **
My awesome blog:


StarStuff said...

Dr. Razavi, how would you expect any straight male to read your article with a pic like that on the top?

Adsense-Guy said...

Thanks a lot for the excellent info!
DeViLz AdSeNsE

Unknown said...

Very helpful and well presented

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Razavi,

thankyou for this information, it is very interesting. I thought you might be interested in checking out it offers an extremely effective system for stress relief that provides rest twice as deep as sleep, and can be parcticed anywhere - at the desk in the office for example. i have found that it allows me to live what would otherwise be a very stressful life without the physical or mental tension that would normally be caused by my hectic, busy lifestyle.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I just wanted to offer another guide for workplace ergonomics. This animated guide offers visual of common ergonomic problems and corrects.

Dr. Taraneh Razavi said...

Thank you very much for the additional ergonomic guides. I will add it to my post. It's one of the better ones that I've seen.

Joe Frampton said...

yeah another lesson in Ergonomics is that if you are surrounded by the colour red it makes you hungry! so if your oprning a cafe or something paint it red! more hunger....more people buying stuff.....more profit! i just thought i'd randomly say that!

txdave said...

If you're concerned about ergonomics, then I think you'll be interested in my blog

It's all about relieving back, neck, and shoulder pain and working and living in an ergonomic way.


Brian Hansen said...

What about in more industrial settings? I work in a potato chip factory where packing boxes full of chips requires the same few motions hundreds up to thousands of times each shift.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your insights......

Steve @

Anonymous said...

Interesting....I learn something all the time.

Thx......Steve @

Anonymous said...

Hey I found a great site that has some nice ergonomic chairs and furniture to help prevent R.S.I.'s. I really liked their strong metal articulating keyboard trays, so I purchased one that was fully loaded for cheap, you can sit and stand with it! Just thought I'd brag :)

Kevin Kennedy <-- Almost Finished!

Anonymous said...

Great tips here. My shoulders are very sore from bad setup of my home office. Your tips have already made a difference for me. Thanks Dr. Razavi.

WayneM said...

Thanks Dr. Razavi for a great blog. I have been helped by this ergonomics sitting program that covers everything about the seat and low back issues, including stretches. Excellent, free audio visual program from a true expert. Have a look:

ergonomics training

Thanks again for your great blog.


thin ice said...

has anyone ever tried the Flash yoga stretches at's Cafe Yoga site
I think it is

they work a treat

Wesley said...

Thanks Dr Razavi, for a great blog. I am a home business owner and use my laptop contantly and have laptop specific issues. The laptop ergonomics link above from the google site is broken, but the one on this site which I also found above has really good information about laptops specifically. Has helped already. Thanks!


work from home tips

Seth Marbin said...

This little free program is great for reminding you to take regular breaks and even prompting you to do stretches throughout the day:

Anonymous said...

well,I have the same issues and my body seems to be shutting down faster and sooner now than in the past, so I hope that these suggestions would work as I intend to try them out but the biggest issue I have at this time is with my eyes getting watery all the time whether or not I am in front of the computer..I have tried the blinking often and gazing far away at nothing in particular to no avail...any new helpful tips would be appreciated as I cannot stop using the computer for 12-14 hours a day...Thanks

profan said...

i would like to find out more about ergonomics and occupational health standards at google's offices in CA. what is done to ensure good occupational health for the workers?
thank you

Wesley said...

Thanks Dr Razavi, for a great blog. Just found this great post on the causes and ergonomic solutions of computer headaches. excellent resource. See:

eliminate computer headaches


Anonymous said...

Many workers suffer an accident at work in their professional lifetime. Unfortunately some are unsure of their rights and if they have a claim for compensation. Unfortunately many people attempt frivolous law suits attempting to get money out of their employer, while genuinely injured people who are out of work stay quiet. People should know their rights they may be eligible for compensation to cover medical bills or time out of work. If it is a industrial accident then inform your boss of the incident and ask if you can leave for treatment immediately.