Ergonomics is defined as “fitting a job to a person.” In the case of someone with arthritis, this means finding ways to modify the workplace (and the home) to lessen the strain on arthritic joints and make life a little more comfortable.
The importance of workplace ergonomics is gaining increasing attention.
Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States. Approximately nine million adults report having symptomatic knee osteoarthritis, while 13 million report symptomatic hand osteoarthritis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), arthritis is categorized as one of several work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
One of the best lifestyle changes for people with arthritis is to exercise. Activity aids in losing weight (or maintaining a healthy weight), in addition to strengthening bones and muscles. Getting up during work breaks or taking a walk after dinner can also prevent joints from stiffening up.
Getting a good, ergonomic, adjustable office chair can also have a big impact on arthritis pain.
An uncomfortable chair can spawn a backache in no time, even for people without arthritis, so take advantage of that adjustable chair. Ways to improve chair comfort include:
- Get a swiveling, wheeled office chair to allow easy movement
- Make sure the chair has a 5-point base to ensure stability
- Get a chair with a height- and tilt-adjustable back that fits the lower back snugly
- Consider getting a chair with a headrest
- Adjust the arm height so arms are at a 90 degree angle when the wrists are resting on the desk
- If buying a new chair, test it out, and don’t forget to check that all the adjustments are easy to do
- Be sure that the chair fits properly
Adjusting the back, arms, and height of a chair is quite straightforward, but making sure that a chair fits properly isn’t so simple. Alan Hedge, PhD, professor of ergonomics and director of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Program at Cornell University, gives some advice about getting a chair that fits correctly at the Arthritis Foundation:
“For the right fit, Hedge advises using the 1-inch seat rule. When sitting back, there should be at least a 1-inch gap between the edge of the seat and the backs of your knees, and the seat of the chair should be at least 1-inch wider than your hips and thighs. The chair’s back should be wide enough for your back, but not too wide to restrict arm movements, such as reaching 90 degrees to your sides.”
Next make a few ergonomic changes to the desktop arrangement to further lessen arthritis pain.
Keeping the neck bent at an uncomfortable angle can exacerbate an arthritic neck, so make sure everything’s at eye-level. This could mean raising the computer monitor, perhaps by putting a monitor stand under it. Also consider getting a document-holder so paper documents are at eye-level, too.
The hands and wrists are often affected by arthritis, too. Putting the mouse and keyboard on an adjustable tray can ensure that they’re on the correct level. Try to adjust chair and keyboard height so that while working, the forearms are parallel to the floor. Keeping the mouse next to the keyboard, instead of on a higher surface, can make sure that it’s not necessary to reach or bend forward.
Additionally, a padded wrist rest can provide support. In addition to a tilted keyboard or stand, a wrist rest can keep the wrists comfortably straight. A keyboard that can be split and tented, or a contoured keyboard, can also help with this. If using a mouse causes arthritis pain, a trackball or touchpad can provide a good alternative.
MedicineNet.com has a very comprehensive list of potential problems and ergonomic solutions, complete with pictures, for those who aren’t sure what to do about a specific issue. Also, the Arthritis Foundation has a list of good products to check out, like ergonomic desk chairs, monitor stands, and document holders. Websites like Relax the Back or AliMed carry a wide variety of ergonomic office supplies. If buying a new chair is out of the question, consider using a small pillow or rolled towel to provide some lumbar support. Lots of office supply stores carry ergonomic cushions and inserts to provide lumbar support, too.
Changes at home can also make living with arthritis much easier.
Some of the same ergonomic tips utilized in the workplace can be applied at home, such as using a supportive chair. To make day-to-day chores simpler, identify activities that exacerbate arthritis pain. For example, if using a crank can opener makes an arthritic wrist twinge, get an electric can opener instead. If grasping a slick doorknob is difficult, add a doorknob cover or swap it for a lever-style doorknob.
Items with small handles can be problematic, so look for larger toothbrushes, hair brushes, silverware, razors, etc. Alternatively, look for cylindrical foam inserts that can be used to make handles larger. Using pots or pans with two handles instead of one can help, too, since this distributes the weight more evenly. When getting dressed, long-handled reachers, sock aids, long-handled shoe horns, or buttonhooks can spare a lot of bending and grasping. Raised toilet seats, higher chairs, or high seat cushions can make sitting and standing much easier.
Altering the way an everyday activity is performed can alleviate arthritis discomfort, too. If arthritis pain makes wrist movement uncomfortable, for instance, use the hand to grip items and then use gross movements of the elbow and shoulder to perform the action. Using this method, instead of bending the wrist when drinking from a glass, keep the wrist still and instead move the elbow and shoulder.
What ergonomic changes have you made to lessen your arthritis pain?
Image by Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr