Occupational Hazards 101
From the desk of Kristen Lutz, LMT, MS… WARNING! Your job should come with a warning label. That’s right, I said it. Wouldn’t it be great if someone told you there is a very good chance your body’s health, comfort and productivity may suffer at the hands of your job? Did that thought ever even cross your mind? Well, if it didn’t, do not feel badly. I never really thought about it either…until I went to massage therapy school.
Now I often label myself as the ‘forever student’. I am a dork and I’ll admit it. I love school. I like being the sponge that soaks up knowledge and applies the information to the work I do with my clients. With that said, I’ve spent my fair share of time in lecture halls and labs prior to going to massage therapy school. I was a student of exercise physiology which included working in various clinical settings. Each clinical setting came with its own set of physical demands. Yet, no one ever taught me how to take care of myself so that I could have longevity in my career of choice. Now, maybe this is something that I should have figured out on my own, but I didn’t. And I’m going to venture to say that you are also in the same boat that I was in.
Let’s jump back to massage therapy school. I had no idea that they would place so much emphasis on the importance of good body mechanics and proper self-care. But it makes sense. It was the backbone (pardon the pun) of my learning experience and I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately. Why don’t other schools give their students the tools to take better care of their bodies so they can be more productive and decrease their risk of injury? That thought inspired me to dedicate my blogging over the next few months to address what I am calling “Occupational Hazards 101”. Each entry will feature a different job or occupation. I will address the risks (hazards) associated with the job function and provide some solutions (remedies) and self-care ideas. My hope is to help increase your awareness of how you move your body relative to your job responsibilities each day. In doing so, you can work toward preventing discomfort and ward off injuries so that you have more time for the fun things in life!
I am open to requests! If you’d like to have your job featured, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured Job: The Desk Job. Whether your job is to lend IT support or answer the phones, sitting at a desk all day can create poor postural habits. There are some things that are within your control to change at work, while others are just going to be there no matter what. Either way, here are some ideas to help bring you closer to occupational bliss…or something like that.
The Hazard: Repetitious static work is very fatiguing on your upper body as well as your eyes. The Remedy: Take a short break (3 to 5 minutes) from sitting or working at a computer every 20 to 40 minutes. The short break doesn’t mean you have to stop doing your job. Find other tasks you can do like send a fax, get up to file some papers or go speak directly with a coworker instead of sending an email. The Self Care: When you do stand up, do so with a purpose! As you stand up imagine yourself lengthening your body into a perfect vertical rubber band. While feeling grounded at your feet, imagine your muscles elongating from your feet, up through your legs, into your hips, spine and eventually through your neck and head. If you can, raise your arms out to your sides with palms facing up. Bring them together up and over your head as you look up towards the ceiling. Take a nice deep breath in. As you exhale, draw your arms back down along your side.
The Hazard: Sitting in one position or leaning on your arms for long periods of time can interfere with circulation, make your joints and muscles stiff, and lead to fatigue. The Remedy: Change positions periodically. Fidgeting at work isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Elementary schools across the country will take class breaks to let the kids get up and move around. While, I’d love to see you break out some jumping jacks or the tree pose in the middle of your office, just small movements will do. The Self-Care: Take this opportunity to drink a few sips of water. No water at your desk? Plan to bring your own refillable bottle of water each day. Use that trip to fill it up another reason to get up and move your body.
The Hazard: Straining your neck and back while at the computer. Before you know it, you find that your back is rounded, shoulders are rolled forward and your head is in a forward position. The Remedy: Maintain a comfortable viewing distance from your screen (about 18 to 30 inches) at a level where your screen is perpendicular to your line of site. Be sure your head and neck are in a neutral posture when you are checking this. Having difficulty seeing what’s on your screen from that distance? Maybe it’s time to schedule an appointment with your eye doctor. The Self-Care: While sitting, think about lifting the top of your head to the ceiling. To help you do this, you can image someone has tethered a string to the top of your head and they are gently pulling the string upward. Follow that line of movement while keeping your chin parallel to the floor. You can also think about lifting your chest up 1 inch versus trying to “sit up straight”. Oftentimes, that leads to over-arching your low back and causing more discomfort. Without tipping your head in any direction, pull your chin and head straight back. You will feel a stretch in the back of your neck. Relax your chin back forward to a neutral position. Repeat 8 to 12 times.
The Hazard: Straining your neck and back while on the phone. The Remedy: If a headset or earpiece is not in your near future and you find yourself having to hold a phone to one shoulder or the other, at least switch sides after each call…share the love. We all tend to have one side that we favor using – whether it is to hold a bag or support a phone. Try switching it up to share the responsibility. The Self-Care: Begin with your head and neck in a neutral position. With your right hand, pull your head so that you are bringing your right ear closer to your right shoulder. It is not so important that you touch your ear to your shoulder as it is important you feel a comfortable stretch between your left ear and left shoulder. Think about keeping your left shoulder completely still. You want to create a nice long line and stretch between that left shoulder and ear. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat to the opposite side. Take notice if one side is tighter than the other and give an extra stretch to the tighter side.
The Hazard: Improper arm positioning when using a keyboard, mouse or other desk items. The Remedy: Position your keyboard at elbow height, keep your wrists straight while typing. You want your forearm and upper arm to create a 90-degree angle. Remember, if you have to raise your chair to do this, make sure your feet are still supported by the ground or a footrest. When seated, your hips should be slightly higher than your knees. Having a keyboard and/or mouse too far away can cause additional stress on the shoulders, elbows, forearms and wrists. The Self-Care: Perform each stretch to one arm at a time. With your left elbow bent and palm facing the ceiling, rest your right hand over the fingers of your left hand (leaving the left thumb alone for now). Slowly push against the fingers of your left hand so that the top of your left hand is being drawn toward the top of your left forearm. This movement should be slow. Stop when you feel a comfortable stretch in your forearm. Hold for 30 seconds. While maintaining the stretch, start to extend your left arm out until your arm is straight out in front of you and that elbow is no longer bent. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat to the same arm, only this time, focus on stretching your left thumb. Repeat all of that to your right arm.
Kristen Lutz, a Nationally Certified Licensed Massage Therapist, is a graduate of Cortiva Institute - Boston (formerly Muscular Therapy Institute) in Watertown, MA. As a member of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) and Cambridge Who's Who Among Executives, Professionals and Entrepreneurs, her work is centered upon supporting clients in achieving optimal health and well being through listening and understanding individual needs . She integrates various massage techniques into each personalized session. These techniques include Swedish (relaxation), deep tissue, sports massage, neuromuscular (trigger point) therapy and myofascial release along with stretching, range of motion and breath work.
Clients benefit from Kristen's approach that each client is unique and no one treatment is alike. This customized approach leads to a more effective treatment. Kristen, a New England native, has been living in Boston for the past six years. She graduated with a B.S. in Exercise and Sport Sciences from Colby-Sawyer College in New London, NH while playing collegiate women's volleyball. She continued with her education and graduated with a M.S. in Clinical Exercise Physiology from Northeastern University in Boston, MA and has worked in the health and wellness field as an exercise physiologist.