Tonight on News 363: Is your workplace killing you?

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. -- No, probably not. But if your work involves sitting for prolonged periods of time, typing/staring at a computer, or performing the same task repeatedly, you could be at risk for a variety of musculoskeletal disorders. Pain in your neck, lower back, or hands/wrists; eye strain and fatigue; and/or reduced blood flow to your extremities can all result from poor ergonomics—that is, improper physical positioning or use of muscles in the course of your job. While these issues may not be as noticeable or bothersome on a daily basis, over the course of several years (i.e. your military career) they can compound into more significant physical concerns. But have no fear, much of these issues are preventable with proper positioning methods!

- Position yourself comfortably in chairs when sitting. Whether at a meeting, at your desk, or eating lunch, make sure you adjust your seated position appropriately. Set your seat height so that your knees form a 90° angle, with your feet sitting flat on the floor. If your knees are higher than your hips, or the backs of your knees feel compressed, you’re sitting too low. If the backs of your thighs feel compressed, you’re probably sitting too high. If your seat isn’t adjustable, consider sitting on a cushion (if the seat is too low) or stacking some books on the floor under your feet (if too high).

- Be mindful of your spinal position. Sit upright in your seat such that the back support reaches at least to the level of your belly button. You don’t necessarily have to engage your core, but try to sit up straight and avoid hunching down or leaning forward—this includes keeping from craning your head and neck. On that note, avoid sitting on large exercise balls in lieu of chairs; not only do they not provide adequate back/elbow support, but they can also compress your spine over time!

- Support your wrists and elbows. Adjust armrests so that your elbows are supported and don’t hang too far below your keyboard while you type (unsupported elbows often result in shoulder and neck strain). Use a keyboard pad to support your wrists such that they align with or slightly below the keyboard (good for preventing carpal tunnel). If you use a standing desk—and you should only do so for ~20 minutes at a time—keep your elbows at a 90° angle.

- Take a break (at least) every hour. The bright lights of the computer monitor can cause eye strain and fatigue over time; similarly, sitting for prolonged periods reduces blood flow throughout the body. Try to get up from your desk and walk around for at least 5 minutes every hour. Take a stroll around the office, talk with coworkers, escape the SCIF and check your phone, and/or go outside to get some sunlight and much-needed Vitamin D.