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PT Students Evaluate Ergonomics of Workstations

Offer 10 Tips to Improve Work Space

Physical Therapy doctoral candidates Rachel Blakeslee, left, and Pella Anderson evaluated the ergonomics of employee workstations.

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Spending the day in front of a computer can be a pain in the neck ߝ literally ߝ if workers fail to pay attention to their posture, monitor location, keyboard position and other ergonomic rules, according to Physical Therapy Department faculty and students.

“Many people don’t realize the strain they put on their necks, shoulders and wrists when sitting in a poor posture at their workstations,” says Assoc. Prof. Gerard Dybel. The most important way to minimize pain and body stress is to sit at a proper position relative to the workstation, he says.

As part of a Workstation Ergonomics seminar the department hosted in the fall, PT students offered one-on-one follow-up consultations with University employees.  The counseling sessions provide students a practical way to apply their classroom education that was useful to employees as well.  Students made simple adjustments to workstations such as raising or lowering chairs or computer screens.

When Physical Therapy doctoral candidate students Pella Anderson and Rachel Blakeslee analyzed an employee workstation, they asked questions about work habits, measured distances between the body and equipment, and recommended exercises to ease pain that’s not always associated with computer work. 

“If you suddenly picked up a box and felt pain in your back, you’d realize right away what the problem is and probably wouldn’t do it again,” says Anderson.

“The issue with a poorly designed work area is that the injury happens slowly overtime so people don’t notice it right away and therefore don’t connect their pain with working at a computer,” added Blakeslee.

Ergonomics is within the scope of practice of physical therapists who are trained to evaluate workstations, prescribe equipment to reduce stresses and recommend exercises to stretch muscles and improve posture. 

“Physical therapists can really help people manage and often eliminate pain, not only after surgeries or accidents, but from everyday computer activities,” says Dybel, who earned a doctorate in ergonomics at UMass Lowell and who teaches courses in the only Doctor of Physical Therapy program offered by a public university in the state.

The Top 10 checklist the students offered, courtesy of U.S. Department of Labor: Occupational Safety & Health Administration, is:

  • Use a good chair with a dynamic chair back that is angled slightly to the rear with lumbar support.
  • Provide adequate lighting to prevent glare on screen.
  • Position the monitor 20” away from eyes on a stable work surface.
  • Rest feet on floor or on a stable foot rest ߝ move feet frequently for circulation.
  • Use a document holder that is in-line with the computer screen.
  • Wrist supports should be utilized with a keyboard or mouse on keyboard tray; wrists should be straight in alignment with the keyboard and mouse.
  • Keeps arms and elbows relaxed and close to body (elbows at 90 degrees resting on the chair armrests).
  • Center monitor and keyboard in front of you at or just below eye level.
  • Keep head and neck in balance and in-line with your torso.
  • Take frequent short breaks and stretch often.

- Karen_Angelo