Work Day Pain | Stiff and Sore During Or At The End of Your Work Day?

By Kristina Nelsen Miller, PT MSPT OCS CEES | Contributing Author | Paulseth & Associates Physical Therapy Staff Member

Have you ever felt stiff & sore while you are working or at the end of your work day? If so, maybe you are not working in a good ergonomic environment.

What is Ergonomics?
Ergonomics is the science of fitting jobs to people & affects health, safety, & productivity. Ergonomic design is the application of the body of knowledge about physical abilities & limitations to the design of the workplace for safe & efficient use by workers.

Why practice Ergonomics?
The most prevalent & expensive work-related injuries in the U.S. are due to musculo-skeletal disorders. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Tension Neck Syndrome, & Low Back Pain are some examples of musculo-skeletal disorders which account for at least 1/3 of all  work-related injuries. These disorders cost employers $15 to $18 billion a year in direct workers’ compensation or about one of every three workers’ comp. dollars.

What are the benefits of Ergonomic Programs?

  • Decreased errors & product defects
  • Decreased time required to perform tasks
  • Reduced training & associated costs
  • Reduced hidden costs (such as disability salaries & insurance premiums)
  • Improved morale
  • Reduced worker discomfort
  • Reduced fatigue related costs
  • Improved hazard identification & control
  • Improved quality
  • Improved organizational performance
  • Decreased loss of customers
  • Improved company efficiency resulting from smaller workforce (resulting from reduced absenteeism & lost time injuries/illnesses)
  • Reduced management & supervision costs (fewer incident investigations & time spent solving related issues)
  • Increased labor pool (older, less fit, & disabled workers can be employed in ergonomically designed workplaces)
  • Decreased ergonomically designed litigation
  • Reduced disruption of work teams
  • Reduced productivity fluctuations resulting from late-shift or late-week operations
  • Improved & increased general health awareness
    Financial savings

What can you do to improve your ergonomic environment?
Our clinic offers full Ergonomic Evaluation Assessments, where a Certified Ergonomic Evaluation Specialist comes to your workplace. A full assessment of the workplace will be performed & suggestions for improving efficiency & safety will be outlined in a report. In addition we will be offering Ergonomic & Posture Education Group Seminar Courses beginning over the next year. You can also begin by trying to arrange your work area with some basic Ergonomic principals.

What are the basic Ergonomic principles for working at a computer & desk?

  • Top of monitor at or just below eye level
  • Head & neck balanced & in-line with torso, not forward
  • Shoulders relaxed & upper arms hang relaxed at the sides of the body
  • Elbows bent to about 90°, close to body, & supported by adjustable armrests
  • Lower back fully supported in a neutral posture(back NOT slumped forward & NOT too arched backwards either)
  • Thighs & hips are supported by a well-padded seat & parallel to the floor
  • Knees are about the same height as the hips
  • Wrists & hands in-line with forearms parallel to the floor
  • Adequate room for keyboard & mouse
  • Feet flat on the floor or footrest

How can you prevent developing musculoskeletal disorders? Some of the most beneficial  activities you can do periodically throughout the day to prevent musculo-skeletal disorders are:

  • Adjust your working position
  • Stretch your fingers/hands/arms/torso
  • Stand up & walk around for a few minutes

Preventative Measures | Stretches that can be done throughout the workday:
There are several stretches you can learn to help prevent your muscles from tightening up during the day & there is also a variety of strengthening exercises to help increase your posture muscular endurance. We are now offering preventative exercise instruction for individuals provided by a physical therapist in about a 30 min. duration for a cash rate. Please call our clinic for more information on this or to set up an appointment with a physical therapist for preventative exercise instruction.

“There is no one posture or Ergonomic setup that is perfect for everyone. Everybody is different & one Ergonomic setup may work for one person, but not another. The most important thing to remember is that no matter how good your working posture is, working in the same position for prolonged periods is not healthy. Throughout the day, you should adjust your working position by making small adjustments to your chair or backrest, stretch your fingers/hands/arms/torso, & stand up & walk around for a few minutes periodically.”

NOTE: Do not perform these stretches without first checking with your doctor. These stretches should only be performed if there is NO pain during the exercise & extreme care should be taken to keep these stretches gentle. If you feel any discomfort or pain during these you need to see your doctor before continuing.

Corner Stretch:
Stand with feet shoulder width apart and one slightly in front of the other, facing a corner, place elbows at shoulder level on either sides of corner on the wall; slowly shift weight onto front foot, until stretch is felt across chest..
Hold (10-30 seconds).
Repeat(3-5 times).
Perform(3 times per day)

Upper Trapezius Stretch:
side-bend neck by letting ear fall toward shoulder while keeping eyes facing forward, then place fingertips on opposite side of head to increase stretch gently; can also place opposite arm behind back to increase stretch if needed.
Hold (5-10 seconds).
Repeat(3-5 times).
Perform (3 times per day).

Levator Scapulae Stretch:
turn head to opposite side you want to stretch, let head fall downward nose toward armpit, and then place fingertips on head and gently pull head toward armpit to increase stretch if needed.
Hold (5-10 seconds).
Repeat(3-5 times).
Perform (3 times per day).


Standing or Half Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch:
(a) standing with one foot on step/chair & other foot on floor; pelvic tilt, tighten abdominals & keep back straight; move hips/trunk forward toward foot on step until you feel a stretch in front of hip on standing leg or (b) kneeling with one leg forward repeat above.
Hold (15-30 seconds)
Repeat (3-5 times)
Perform (3 times per day)

Wrist Extensor & Flexor Stretch:
Keeping elbow straight, grasp involved hand & slowly bend wrist down &/or up until a stretch is felt.
Hold (15-30 seconds)
Repeat (3-5 times)
Perform (3 times per day)

About The Author | Kristina Nelsen Miller, PT MSPT OCS CEES studied physical therapy & graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a Master’s of Science in Physical Therapy Degree in 2002.  Kristi attended Augustana College in Rock Island, IL as an undergraduate where she majored in Biology/Pre-Physical Therapy & was on the Varsity Volleyball & Varsity Track & Field teams.  In the fall of 2004, Kristi moved to California from the far west suburbs of Chicago, IL where she worked & gained experience treating a wide variety of orthopedic patients.  Kristi has continued to further her physical therapy knowledge & experience through continuing education classes in manual & orthopedic treatment techniques, ergonomics, & golf fitness.  In Jan. 2009, Kristi completed the requirements to become a Certified Ergonomic Evaluation Specialist.  She also became certified as an Orthopedic Clinical Specialist in the summer of 2009.  Kristi’s treatments focus on posture/muscle imbalance & impairments, movement science, manual therapy, & therapeutic exercise. Kristi can be contacted by using our contact page.