3 steps to the root of your computer pain

Raquel Baetz of Safe Hands DSE has written this guest blog for Posturite revealing three steps to get to the root of your computer pain. 

Workstation desk showing monitor screens, keyboard, mouse and notebook

We all want a quick, easy fix when we’re in pain. That’s why it’s no surprise that we often look to a chair or keyboard when our neck or shoulders ache or our back pain keeps flaring up.

It’s true that great ergonomic equipment does help when it comes to ameliorating aches and pains from computer work. After suffering a debilitating repetitive strain injury, I now rely on my sit-stand desk, vertical mouse and short keyboard. But they don’t address the root of the problem.

Here are three steps to revealing and resolving the underlying causes of pain associated with the use of digital devices.

Step 1: Start with a good workstation assessment

A good workstation assessment will do two things. First, it will instruct you on how to arrange your workstation set-up so that it fits your body. We’re all built differently, so we all need a workstation set-up that is unique to us.

Second, a good workstation assessment will consider how you use your workstation. This includes things like how you use your keyboard and how you use your chair. These inanimate objects cannot take responsibility for how you use them. This part is up to you (see step 2).

A good assessment will also consider your digital habits away from work. What devices do you use during your commute, at home, and everywhere in between? How much do you use them? How are they set up? All these factors will contribute to how you feel and the cumulative effect on your body.

A good assessment will enable you to use all your workstations – even if it’s only your smartphone – in the safest, healthiest way possible. It is the first step in preventing musculoskeletal pain.

Step 2: Pay attention to how you use your self - body and mind

The next step is to become aware of how you use your self. Often at work, we don’t pay attention to what’s happening with our bodies or our brains, particularly when things get a bit intense. We become so engrossed in what’s happening on our screens that we stop noticing anything else.

We all have physical habits that have become our default settings, e.g., leaning into our screens when reading or banging on our keyboards when we want to get something done faster. Neither of these physical habits helps us read or go faster, they’re simply default settings – the safe place we retreat to when we’ve stopped paying attention to anything except our screens.

We do the same thing with our brains. Reactions kick in before we give a situation any real consideration. I’m a big worrier, so my brain goes straight to worry-mode before I’ve given any thought to what a situation calls for.

The body manifests what’s happening in our brains, so as soon as I go into worry-mode, my body follows with constricted breathing, muscle tension, and a locked neck. (These are my favorites, but I’m sure you’ve got your own.)

The next time you’re struggling with a difficult situation or colleague at work, take a moment to notice what’s happening in your brain and if it’s having a knock-on effect on your body. You do this by paying attention and choosing to respond in a way that won’t affect you physically, rather than simply reacting with raised shoulders, etc.

Becoming aware of your default physical and mental habits will help you prevent unnecessary and harmful behaviours. A thorough workstation assessment (see step 1) will bring your attention to some of these habits. A lesson in the Alexander Technique is another great way to understand how to achieve this kind of awareness about how we use our selves – body and mind.

Step 3: Normalise standing and moving at your workplace

The musculoskeletal system is the body’s movement system. It wants to move, and it needs to do so to be healthy. Yet we continue to sit for hours upon hours at work. Is it because we feel that if we are standing or moving, we must not be working? News flash: your brain can continue to work even while you are standing.

Figuring out how to normalise standing and moving in your workplace is the final step in this three-step process. If budget allows, good ergonomic equipment may be part of the solution. For example, sit-stand desks are a great way to bring more movement into the workday. But they aren’t the only solution.

I encourage everyone from the top down in an organisation to talk about how they can bring more movement into their workplace. Working as a group will ensure that the ideas are appropriate to your company’s culture and workable for everyone, thus ensuring buy-in. An active workplace expert can help facilitate this process.

With these three steps – and the right ergonomic equipment - we can banish computer pain and create workspaces where employees leave feeling better than when they arrived.

About Raquel

Raquel Baetz lectures and writes on the intersection of ergonomics and mindfulness in relation to safe and healthy use of digital workstations, including everything from desktop computers to smartphones. She advises companies and individuals on how to maintain physical and mental health by applying both good ergonomics and mindfulness in equal measure to their digital interactions.

To get in touch or learn more, visit: www.safehandsdse.com or follow @SafeHandsDSE