Develop healthy habits in your work space

  • By RaeJean Hasenoehrl SCBJ Freelance Writer
  • Tuesday, March 27, 2012 4:58pm

Is your office workspace befriending you or betraying you?

If you consistently experience headaches, back or neck pain, numbness in your legs or tingling in your fingers or toes, perhaps your workspace is showing a sinister side.

Dr. Ryan Woodbury, DC, of Hanson Chiropractic in Everett, cited an American Medical Association report that the average pain sufferer tallies the equivalent of 30 work days per year in lost productivity, which costs American employers an estimated $61.2 billion per year.

On the home front, such pain can prevent you from spending time with your family, enjoying hobbies and establishing recuperative sleep patterns.

To help people prevent or treat chronic workplace pain, Hanson Chiropractic provides complimentary on-site consultations to businesses to analyze workstation ergonomics. The group also offers wellness workshops to demonstrate exercises and stretches to avoid or relieve pain and provide information on nutrition and stress management.

“In today’s society, our lifestyle is obviously very sedentary,” he said. “We spend a lot of time in the car commuting, we sit at a desk, sit while eating dinner, spend an hour on the couch — over the course of a day, a tremendous amount of stress and pressure is placed on the spine.”

He refers to posture as the window to the spine. “Our spine is there to hold us up against gravity. More importantly, it protects delicate, vital nerve tissue.”

Poor posture puts tremendous strain on the nervous system. Nerve irritation can lead to migraines and other headaches, radiating pain in the arms and other painful conditions.

“Pain is like an alarm, a warning sign to our body that something is wrong,” Woodbury said. “We teach patients to listen to their bodies and not shrug off the pain or just medicate. We teach appropriate measures for change.”

Through prevention education, Woodbury aims to help individuals ward off painful injuries from poor posture.

When a person does suffer an injury — workplace of otherwise — Hanson Chiropractic provides a customized treatment plan, educational materials and lifestyle goals.

Debbie Phibbs, a certified hand therapist with Arlington Physical and Hand Therapy in Arlington, is all too familiar with the chronic injuries that can take place in an office environment.

Repetitive strain injuries to the hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder caused by sustained repetitive tasks, awkward work postures and working in the same position for long periods are a common ailment that Phibbs treats consistently.

Tack on carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition that results in numbness, tingling and muscle weakness in the hand, and de Quervain’s tendonitis, a painful swelling at the base of the thumb and wrist, and you have an idea of what maladies a poorly engineered work environment can exacerbate.

Like Woodbury, Phibbs recommends making work-station ergonomic modifications to help prevent or resolve the symptoms of any injuries.

Monitor: It should be directly in front of you, about an arm’s length away, with the upper edge of the screen at eye level.

Phone: A headset is necessary if you’re on the phone frequently. A headset reduces stress at the wrist and can alleviate neck and upper back pain by avoiding awkward postures.

Keyboard: To prevent wrist, elbow and forearm strain, position the keyboard so the elbows are bent to 90 degrees or lower (straighter). A mobile, repositionable keyboard tray can accommodate appropriate positioning. A wrist rest is helpful to position the wrist in neutral during typing breaks by resting the heel of the hand on the pad. When typing, hold your wrists in a straight position just above the wrist rest.

Mouse: Position the mouse within easy reach to the side of the keyboard to avoid overstretching when in use. The wrist should be held in a neutral position. Utilize an ergonomic vertical mouse to reduce strain on muscles in the forearm.

Phibbs also recommends programming a reminder into your computer calendar to cue you to stretch your arms for 30 to 60 seconds every 30 minutes. She recommends these simple stretches: make a fist and open your fingers wide; straighten elbows and bend your wrist down, palms down and palms up; and perform an extension stretch by sitting up straight and pinching your shoulder blades back and down like you are sliding them into your back pocket.

“If symptoms persist, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor, who may provide a prescription for medications, therapy or arrange for a local therapist to make a site visit to assess your work setting and make recommendations for modifications,” Phibbs said.

Susanna Mantis, an experienced registered yoga teacher, adds that in addition to a shoulder roll or muscle stretch every few minutes, drinking a half-glass of water and taking a slow walk around your chair every hour will boost your brain and your body.

“Not moving enough makes you feel sluggish, have low energy and even get depressed,” she said.

She also noted that a lack of physical exercise can lead to poor blood circulation, varicose veins, heart problems and blood clots.

Mantis travels to Snohomish County businesses to provide instruction on a number of elements that promote a healthful workplace environment, including the use of chair yoga. The chair yoga program she teaches includes motions performed from a chair, standing poses and stretches, meditation and correct breathing.

At 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 2, Mantis will offer a free chair yoga class for all ages at her business, Z’s Body and Soul, 9504 271st St. NW, Stanwood. Reservations are required at 360-629-5040.

Mantis also suggests aromatherapy specifically formulated to help rejuvenate energy, relieve pain, diminish stress and boost the immune system. Product details are available on her website,

Health Resources

Hanson Chiropractic: 11314 Fourth Ave. W., Everett; 425-355-3739;

Integrated Rehabilitation Group-Arlington Physical &Hand Therapy: 7728 204th St. NE, Suite A, Arlington; 360-403-8250;

Z’s Body and Soul: 9504 271st St. NW, Stanwood; 360-629-5040;