I recently had an unusual experience. I had to work at a desk on a computer for 6 ½ hours straight. It put me in a place of experiencing the work circumstances many patients have and work through their entire careers. Understanding where pain and injuries come from is quite different from going through it yourself. After my day, I had a headache, pain in my neck, shoulders, fingers and stiffness in my back which made it feel like it was difficult to stand up straight. And those side effects were in spite of getting up to walk, stretching at my desk and constantly correcting my posture. My experience was an eye opener as to how difficult it can be to help patients when they come in with acute, chronic pain that is the result from years of a sedentary work environment. Let’s discuss tips and tools we can give patients to help them take care of themselves throughout their office work day.
5 Tips to Help Patients Working in an Office
- Remember to move: Evidence shows that sitting for long periods over extended time can lead to poor circulation in the legs and contribute to back pain. Remind patients to get up and take short walks periodically, setting a timer on their phone or computer to remind them.
- Set up their work station properly: Make sure that their work station is set up for their body: meaning the chair, desk and computer are set up for their height. All desks are pretty much one size fits all, meaning patients need to find a desk chair that adjusts and have their computer set up at a level where their head, neck, shoulders and hand can remain in neutral.
- Stretch: There are plenty of stretches that can be done in a small space, without even leaving their desk. Give patients printouts of desks they can do to stretch their necks, shoulders, arms, backs and legs.
- Hydrate: Studies show that hydrated employees have better productivity. More than that though, being hydrated is making sure that the body is receiving what it needs to function properly, so remind patients to drink throughout the day.
- See their PT: It’s important patients know to seek treatment for the pain they begin to feel on the job, before it becomes a chronic problem that may require more invasive measures such as surgery for carpal tunnel or back pain.
There are many tools a physical therapist can give patients to help them reduce their pain and maintain long healthy careers.
a. Paraffin therapy: Paraffin helps reduce the pain experienced by carpal tunnel.
b. Ultrasound therapy: Ultrasound is useful for helping carpal tunnel, neck and back pain.
c. Low Level Laser Therapy: Another useful, pain relieving tool for carpal tunnel; low level laser therapy is also helpful in reducing neck pain.
d. Kinesio Tape: Kinesio tape is a useful tool for helping reduce pain and works to help patients maintain neutral position of the taped body part.
e. Therapeutic Exercise: Targeted exercises help patients gain strength and flexibility to maintain neutral positions, but also help relieve pressure on any impinged nerves causing pain.
Our culture, not just in work conditions, is becoming more and more sedentary. Physical therapy offices are going to see more and more cases of chronic carpal tunnel, low back pain, neck pain and thoracic outlet syndrome. It’s important to give patients the tools to take care of themselves when they are at work, but also educate them as to the rehabilitative tools physical therapy offers to help them with their chronic problems.