How to Fix the Pains of Work

By Nancy A. Melville, Health Scout, Sunday 12 November 2000, 12:34 PM EST

SUNDAY, Nov. 12 (HealthScout)—Working all day gives many people a real pain in the neck—and in the shoulders, the wrists and other parts of the body positioned awkwardly for long periods.

Preventing such pains—from what's known as repetitive stress or overuse syndrome—may involve just a few simple adjustments in your office and your lifestyle, experts say.

Simply getting a bit more exercise may be the best way to reduce effects of repetitive stress, says Dr. David Lembert, a Manhattan chiropractic orthopedist.

If you're fit, your muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints are accustomed to rigorous, vigorous work … and these structures develop an increased ability to adapt to physical stress; therefore, you're better able to withstand repetitive stresses, such as typing at a keyboard for hours on end, Lembert says.

Anything from walking or lifting dumbbells to light aerobic activity should do the trick, he says.

The important thing is to do something, get moving and do it consistently, Lembert says.

In the office, Lembert says start by looking at your chair and keyboard.

The biggest ergonomic mistakes people make are inappropriate seat height and keyboard position. If your seat is too high or too low, then, regardless of where your keyboard is positioned, your elbows will either be above or below the plane of the floor, and that's going to irritate your shoulders, elbows and wrists, he says.

And, if you think that newfangled keyboard or wrist rest is the answer to your repetitive stress problems, Lembert says think again.

Most of the various new designs don't add anything, and, in fact, they can create their own set of problems. That's because it's not the keyboard or the mouse, it's the setup, Lembert says.

Dr. Lloyd Van Winkle, president of the Texas Academy of Family Physicians, says the only designs that help people offer the chance to change positions frequently.

The key to avoiding repetitive stress problems is to do ergonomic evaluations of the workplace and make sure equipment allows for changes in posture and position, Van Winkle says. That way, when workers do these repetitive motions, the stress is distributed over a wider area and allows for the body to accommodate the activities.

You're in trouble when you're in a little cubicle, and everything is in a fixed position on the desk, such as at a mail-order location or something, he says. Those people develop real problems, and it's in the best interest of industry to make those changes because it's costly to deal with the consequences.

To reduce problems, Dr. Lembert also suggests you:

What To Do

For other tips to avoid repetitive stress problems when working with keyboards and monitors, check information at

For more information on carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition of the wrist and hands that plagues people whose work involves repetitive motions, visit the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons online.

Or, you may want to read previous HealthScout articles on repetitive stress injuries.