How to stop your job from killing you

2010-05-24
THE PUNCH Newspaper- Abimbola Adelakun

Hard work indeed pays but not when it poses serious challenge to your health. And this is not just talking about physical labour. Sedentary jobs come with high risks to health as well.

Sitting at a desk all day long itself carries an implication for your health if not carefully watched. Many other hazards to your health start with sitting at the desk and staring into the computer almost permanently. As a result, one is likely to develop back pain, eyestrain and insomnia.

Here are six office-related maladies and how they can be prevented.

The Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

As a work-related problem, CTS is developed as a result of too much typing. For office workers who use a computer all day, scientists have found that CTS manifests by symptoms and signs caused by compression of the median nerve travelling through the carpal tunnel. It affects the hands since it is an upper limb neuropathy that results in motor and sensory disturbance of the median nerve. It causes pain numbness and tingling sensations which can occur from the arm and extend to the shoulder and neck area.

“Typing on the computer is stress,” says Jide Arogunmasa, who works in a publishing house. ”Also, it cramps your fingers.”

CTS is not just pain or soreness from too much typing. It‘s the tingling, numbness, itching or even sharp pains caused when a nerve that runs through the forearm is compressed by swollen ligaments and bones in the wrist.

Prevention: If not managed, treatment may involve acupuncture, drugs or even surgery. It is better to prevent it by stretching and other exercises that may help release tension in the wrist, researchers say. Mayo clinic warns that while typing, hit the keyboard gently and write more gently on paper too. Importantly, therapists warn that your wrists shouldn‘t actually rest on those cushy wrist pads that sit below your keyboard or mouse pad. They should actually be used as a guide for how high your wrists should be. Hands should hover over the wrist rest and it should only be used as a rest in between bouts of typing.

It can also be prevented by developing healthy habits like avoiding repetitive stress, practising healthy work habits like using ergonomic equipment (where provided), taking proper breaks, and early passive treatment.

Lower-back pain and other joint problems

Bad posture at your desk goes beyond the obvious slouching. Sitting up straight but curving your back too much can be a cause of lower-back pain as well. The human body is not meant to remain static for too long. If not moved from time to time, staying in one position for too long makes the joints feel tight.

Prevention: Don’t sit in one place for too long. Besides getting up from your desk at regular intervals and walking around a bit, doctors warn that moving around at intervals will prevent the joint from tightening up. Apart from being better aware of your posture as you‘re sitting at your desk, getting regular exercise including abdominal strengthening activities should relieve some of the pressure on your lower back. Having too fat a wallet in your back pocket can be a bad thing as well, scientists say. Sitting on a large wallet can put pressure on the sciatic nerve, which can cause sharp back pain.

Kunle Oluwatobi, an artist, says he has learnt to move around intermittently to ensure free flow of blood. “Long sitting can also affect regular feeding habit. I ensure I eat well while I am working.”

For Lolade Adewuyi, a journalist, the Internet itself is enough to make one forget oneself. “I get carried away by the interesting things I read online. Now, I force myself to shut down the computer and walk out for lunch. I think people should relax more, stretch their legs and backs.”

Eyestrain

Looking into the computer screen all day long is very hazardous. Office workers who spend hours a day staring at a computer screen are likely to notice that while their vision gets blurry and their eyes generally become more sensitive. Those symptoms (as well as too-watery or too-dry eyes, a headache or a sore neck) could be indications of eyestrain, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Broadcaster and civil servant, Sina Abimbola blames the issue on a country using the new media without practicing ergonomics properly as it is done in the developed world.

“Now my eyes have aged twenty years more than me. My back aches and that affects my performance even in the bedroom.”

Eyestrain signs and symptoms also include sore, tired, burning or itching eyes, sore neck, increased sensitivity to light. Computer use, according to Mayo clinic, can cause additional eyestrain symptoms such as trouble shifting your focus between monitor and paper documents and colour fringes or after images when you look away from the monitor.

Prevention: To prevent eyestrain at your computer, Microsoft advises computer users to increase their font size so they don‘t have to squint. Mayo Clinic also suggests you rest your eyes frequently by looking away from your computer screen at least for five minutes every hour and reducing any glare on your monitor. Too prevent dryness of eyes, they also advise computer users to blink often or use artificial teardrops. Glasses and contact lenses too should be appropriate for the computer.

Desk Bacteria

“The desk, in terms of bacteria, is 400 times dirtier than your toilet,” University of Arizona microbiologist, Dr. Charles Gerba, says. “People turn their desks into bacteria cafeterias because they eat at them, but they never clean them. The phone is the dirtiest, the desktop is next, and the mouse and the computer follow.”

The study, conducted by the University of Arizona in 2002 found the typical worker‘s desk has hundreds of times more bacteria per square inch than an office toilet seat. As if that is not bad enough, desks, phones and other private surfaces are also prime habitats for the viruses that cause colds and flu.

Office toilet seats had 49 germs per square inch, Gerba found. But desktops had almost 21,000 germs per square inch. Phones were worse - more than 25,000 germs per square inch.

But bacteria problems at your desk are rooted in personal hygiene problems. Food crumbs and other food bits can get in between keys on your keyboard, attract rats and lead to unintended exposure to their germs.

Prevention: Unless you cannot help it, use the office canteen. It is much safer and far more convenient. If, however, you have to eat your lunch at your desk, you may want to make sure you wash your hands properly. If your office has a communal kitchen sink with a sponge, the American Dietetic Association suggests using paper towels instead, just to stay safe from bacteria. Clean desk is non-negotiable. Apart from the fact that it can save your life, it also helps to get work done much faster. Besides, it makes you look organised.

Stress

Stress from the job has two advantages: it makes our work satisfying and helps us to meet deadlines. But too much stress is actually a major health hazard. Workplace stress varies according to individual - what is stressful for one person may not be stressful for another. It can depend on your personality type and how you have learned to respond to pressure

Studies show that if you job chains you to a desk, you may be even more likely to have stress-related outbursts. Watch out for signs like headaches, muscular tension, backache and/or neck ache, tiredness and sleep problems, digestive problems, a raised heart rate, skin rashes, sweating and blurred vision.

Chronic stress can also contribute to anxiety and depression, and can even increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke making one prone to psychological symptoms such as low feelings, irritability and mood swings, disturbed eating patterns, finding it hard to concentrate, feeling less motivated and a lower libido.

Prevention: Smaller stress can be handled with breathing and relaxation techniques at your desk or a break outside of the office, but some conflicts may call for mediation by an unbiased party. Whatever you do, don‘t try to be in too many places at once. Go for lunch breaks and don‘t take work home with you. Take time out to exercise, relax and spend time with your family. Careerbuilder.com recommends that you sneak time to play video games at work. It says it helps to relax stress.

 

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