Doctors and nurses have an unusually high rate of workplace injuries, with those who work in hospitals at particular risk. In fact, according to OSHA statistics, since 2001 hospital staff have experienced injury and illness rates greater than both manufacturing and construction and well above the national average. Making ergonomic adjustments to the work environment, however, could help reduce these numbers.
A Twist On Text Neck
One of the most common forms of pain among modern Americans is something professionals have come to call “text neck” – neck pain associated with bending over our cell phones. This posture increases strain on the spine and can eventually cause permanent changes to the cervical spine. And while doctors may not suffer from text neck from excessive texting, there are plenty of tasks in the profession that can cause similar problems.
Consider, for example, the position of the head during many surgical procedures. As more surgeries move from open procedures to a laparoscopic approach, surgeons are increasingly likely to maintain a flexed neck posture similar to that of looking at a cell phone. This can cause severe pain and even prevent some physicians from being able to operate. Changing the positioning of screens and lenses and adjusting the length of tools could help reduce strain on the neck and even minimize painful fixed postures during these procedures.
Improvements In The Office
When a patient comes to the office complaining of neck and back pain, doctors are likely to ask about their work environment – the height of the desk, the kind of chair the individual sits in, and other ergonomics-related questions. But do doctors follow their own advice? In short, no.
Doctors should consider their office furniture carefully to ensure that it serves both form and function and some basic rules can help. Formal offices for patient meetings should be posture-friendly and stylish; consider a low table with slipper chairs. This combination discourages slouching and leaning since there’s no table to hide behind. And because slipper chairs have short legs and high backs, they encourage people to put their feet on the ground and sit up straight.
In more functional spaces, including at exam-room workstations, adjustability should be the rule. Many different people move through these terminals, including nurses and technicians. Height-adjustable workstations make it easier for everyone to comfortably use these computers, while keeping the monitor at eye level and arms parallel to the floor. Placing a small footrest beneath the terminal can also improve posture and reduce back pain by allowing users to shift their weight while working.
Sit Up Smarter
If you look around any startup’s office, you’ll notice a variety of unusual chairs – from balance balls to stools on springs – and medical offices and hospitals could benefit from these unusual pieces of furniture. That’s because these chairs are designed for active sitting, which means they force the user to engage their core to stay upright and stable.
In addition to improving your posture, some people also find that active sitting improves their focus and productivity. That’s because sitting for long periods of time can cause slow circulation and impede mental clarity. And from a medical standpoint, active sitting is a way that doctors can lead patients by example. Sitting too much is associated with an increased risk of premature death and many modern diseases such as obesity and chronic pain have been grouped together as “sitting diseases.” In other words, they didn’t happen when we led more active lifestyles.
Ultimately, the best thing doctors can do to make the workplace more ergonomic is to allow for constant adjustment and that means changing the desk height, moving from sitting to standing, and taking time out of the day to stretch. Simple exercises like shoulder squeezes, chin tucks, and abdominal pull-ins can all improve posture and core muscle strength, reduce back pain, and help keep you feeling energized throughout the day. While compared to many modern jobs, being a doctor is hardly sedentary, it can certainly have a similar negative impact on the body.
As the old saying goes, we teach what we most need to learn, and that certainly applies to doctors and healthy work practices. So next time you find yourself advising a patient on back pain or how to set up their workspace, take a second and assess your own. Are you sitting up straight? Does your office model what you’re telling them? When doctors don’t practice what we preach, how can we expect patients to take us seriously?