Have a seat. Or maybe don't. With more Americans confined to desks and computer screens, there has been a surge of research into the role of ergonomics on employee abilities, productivity and long-term health.
"Sitting is the new smoking," says Carol Green, a physical therapist at Charlotte-based OrthoCarolina who has spent the majority of her 33-year career studying ergonomics. "Research shows that it is just as dangerous for your health and can take up to seven years off your life."
Workplace or industry ergonomics involves adapting the environment to make it safe and efficient for employees. This can include proper sitting techniques or the use of standing desks to reduce back, neck and shoulder pain--something an estimated 75% of workers who use a computer have reported, according to Ergotron, a company that builds kinetic office furniture.
Green has seen the societal shift in acknowledging the importance of ergonomics in the workplace, which gained momentum after the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990.
"Companies started to have problems with employee injuries," she says. "We started to see a lot of carpal tunnel and lifting injuries in warehouse settings, so executives started to pay attention."
Green's work primarily involves evaluating individual workstations and suggesting changes that can be made for the employee's well-being. These may seem like minor details, but Green says unhealthy workplace habits, such as sitting for long periods incorrectly, can have long-lasting impacts.
OFFICE ERGONOMICS AND MSDS
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, poor ergonomics frequently develop into musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, torn rotator cuffs or ACLs, and chronic back and neck pain. Typically, MSDs require treatment through orthopedics, physical therapy, medication and surgery.
"The most common musculoskeletal disorders treated in FirstHealth's rehabilitation clinics are spine and extremity diagnoses," says Kathy Holder, a physical therapist and certified ergonomic assessment specialist at FirstHealth of the Carolinas, a not-for-profit health care provider network based in Pinehurst. "Therapists develop and implement a patient-specific plan of care."
At OrthoCarolina, Green says she often sees neck, back, shoulder and leg pain due to poor seating habits and a lack of lumbar support. Carpal tunnel is another common issue associated with typing and repetitive wrist motions in offices.