Musculoskeletal injuries, sometimes referred to as ‘ergonomics injuries’, are the most common injury type of injury at work, coming in at an occurrence of about 40 percent of all injury types. They are injuries that affect the human body’s movement or musculoskeletal system (i.e. muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, discs, blood vessels, etc.). An extremely common musculoskeletal injury area is in the upper extremities, specifically the neck, shoulders, and upper back regions. These can certainly be painful if you have ever experienced them before! As the old saying goes ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ so this post examines some counterintuitive approaches to reduce the likelihood of upper extremity injuries that you can put into place TODAY. The unique thing about this post is that these findings are only applicable to the office. Check out our 6 need-to-know facts below!

6 Need-to-Know Facts To Reduce Office Upper Extremity Injuries

1. Resistance Training Can Help A Lot

Have you ever heard that resistance training can help with either preventing or healing an injury? From my personal experience, I have noticed that those who work out/or and put a little extra attention into their health and fitness tend to have less discomfort and injuries compared to those who do not. That can mean a lot. What does the research say on this? This systematic review found strong evidence that resistance training can prevent upper extremity musculoskeletal injuries. Unsure what resistance training is? Resistance training improves muscular strength and endurance by exercising a muscle or muscle group against some form external resistance. This can be weights at the gym or just using your own body weight- a really good and popular example of which is the TRX training system that we have pictured below. One more thing. You don’t have to be a ‘gym rat’ to see the positive results of resistance training. The systematic review shows that the most promising resistance programs had durations between 20 and 60 minutes spread between one and multiple days per week.

2. Stretching Seems To Help Moderately

This next finding may surprise many of our readers (including me). This systematic review found moderate evidence that stretching programs can help to prevent the likelihood of upper extremity (aka shoulder) injuries. Some ergonomics programs heavily rely on stretching by hosting stretching periods throughout the day or simply posting stretching information throughout the office – there are really so many examples out there. Does your workplace use some sort of stretching as part of the ergonomics program? Personally, I tend to steer away from stretching programs whenever I make ergonomic suggestions in the office, sticking mainly to equipment changes, ergonomic adjustments as well as any education or coaching that may be required. In light of this new information there has definitely been a switch in my mentality towards the benefits of stretching in injury reduction. As always the biggest value of any ergonomics assessment will be the actual adjustments or changes to the workstation to reduce ergonomic risk. Stretching can fit into this as a valuable secondary or additional support to the user.

3. Workstation Adjustments Alone Only A Moderate Help

Hold on to your hats for this one. Interestingly this systematic review found that only focusing on adjusting the person’s workstation doesn’t give as much value at reducing upper extremity injuries as once thought. Workstation adjustments refer to when the chair may be adjusted to fit the user better or other equipment like the monitor or keyboard may be repositioned or lowered/raised for the user to work more ergonomically or optimally. Instead of just doing this, a multi-pronged approach is recommended. There are simply much better results associated with it. Many professionals already know this to be true and have found that their client’s have had the best results by combining ergonomics adjustments with equipment changes, education and coaching. And according to Fact #2, stretching advice could also be a value add in injury prevention! So if you are getting an ergonomics adjustment in the near future, be sure to ask your assessor the reasoning behind the ergonomic adjustments that they are suggesting in hopes that you can remember them and then make the changes where ever you see fit!

4. Limited Evidence That Rest Breaks Have A Positive Effect

Ready for Fact #4? This may be very surprising for some people. Traditionally many resources suggest taking some sort of rest break throughout the workday. However, this systematic review research found that there was limited evidence of a positive effect for rest breaks in the office to prevent upper extremity injuries. Many professionals have recommended taking a break from prolonged computer work hourly or every couple hours. In light of this evidence, just focussing on rest breaks alone without the other components of an effective ergonomics strategy (including equipment recommendations, ergonomic adjustments, education and coaching) will not give the best results at shoulder injury prevention.

5. No Effect For Joystick Pointing Devices

Could using a more ergonomic mouse solve the problem? The systematic review showed that there was limited evidence of no effect for joystick pointing devices, with or without arm supports in the office. Have you seen these types of mice before? They kind of look like our cartoon posted below but instead of an old school type of device they are very modern like this. The theory behind them is that it allows the wrist and forearm to be in a more ergonomic posture during mousing to prevent discomfort and injury. The results of this systematic review tells us that just changing the conventional mouse to a joystick type mouse will have no effect on injury prevention for the upper extremities. Instead, focussing on the ergonomic arrangement of their work surface will give much better results, specifically with keeping the shoulder in a neutral position that can reduce the likelihood of an injury from forming. Speaking of which, have you had a chance to take a look at our free ebook, the ergonomics quick-start guide? It walks you through how to exactly set-up your workstation to minimize awkward postures, which are considered to be an ergonomic risk factor for body areas including the upper extremity.

6. Moderate Evidence For Arm Supports

To finish up on this post, we are focusing on the value of a chair’s arm supports to prevent injury. Under optimal conditions, which is when the armrests can be fully adjusted – adequate height and width adjustments are typically the main requirements to get the armrest positioned optimally. If this is in place, arm supports can be somewhat beneficial at reducing upper extremity injury or discomfort. This fact is supported by the systematic review found in this paper. Researchers found moderate evidence of an optimally adjusted arm support with the reduction of upper extremity injury. This could be because optimally set-up armrests can reduce muscle loading for the upper extremities as well as for the spine. However, attention should be given to armrests that cannot be adequately adjusted for the user. Poor armrest adjustability can result in awkward upper extremity postures, leading to discomfort and injury!

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