Living and Working with Common Conditions

Get tips for managing your particular health condition at work and handling industry-specific concerns.

Workers in hardhats

Managing Your Condition

When you are managing a health condition at work, it’s important to get support so you don’t make the condition worse.

See below for tips on managing your particular condition:

Knee

Shoulder

Wrist

Back

 

Musculoskeletal Conditions

Musculoskeletal conditions or injuries include back conditions, knee injuries, shoulder problems, and carpal tunnel syndrome. 

  • Text Neck: Neck pain, muscle weakness, and headaches can result from the tension created in the neck and cervical spine by constantly tilting you head forward to view a smartphone screen. To reduce the tension on your neck and spine, take frequent breaks from looking down at your phone, do neck stretches, and, as always, avoid texting and driving.
  • Thumb Pain and Inflammation: This can be caused by excessive typing. The thumb has less dexterity than your other fingers. Repetitive thumb typing in an awkward position can result in aching and cramping, and it may eventually lead to osteoarthritis. Using a stylus to type your text messages, or dictating them rather than always typing them, can help reduce stress on the thumbs. Rest and ice will help if you are already experiencing thumb pain.

Ergonomics

When you have a musculoskeletal condition or injury, you may need to make adjustments in the way you move and the way you do certain tasks. You may even need to change some old habits at work. The  study of how to incorporate adjustments into your day is known as ergonomics.

Bad posture, how you move your body, doing the same motion over and over again—these workplace habits can lead to pain or discomfort, especially if you already have an injury. Even if you have a supportive office chair, have high-tech tools, or work with state-of-the-art equipment, you may still have pain if your gear hasn’t been properly adjusted for your body. By learning good ergonomics for your job, you can help protect yourself and those around you.

Workplace Tips by Industry

There are three things to remember no matter what industry you work in or what type of work you do:

  • Familiarize yourself with your equipment and how it can be adjusted.  
  • Every 15 minutes, change positions (or stand up if you are sitting), and stretch for about 30 seconds.
  • When you are bending at a joint (elbows, knees, hips) or sitting, 90 degrees is “the right angle” to use.

Industry Breakdown

If you work in an office, or at home, chances are you’re one of the 139 million Americans who work on a computer. Back problems, neck pain, headaches, and even problems with vision can be caused by poorly adjusted equipment. Here are some things you can do to help improve your office ergonomics and avoid a knee or back reinjury:

Sit the right way at your computer.

  • Sit tall, shoulders back, without arching your back. Make sure your feet are planted firmly on the ground. Avoid crossing your legs.
  • Support your thighs and hips with a well-padded seat that’s parallel to the floor. Your knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle.
  • Keep knees about the same height as hips, with feet slightly forward. If you can’t raise or lower your chair to the right height, try using a footstool.
  • Your upper arms should be perpendicular to the floor. Your lower arms should be parallel to the floor, creating a 90-degree bend in your elbows.
  • Your keyboard should be right underneath your hands with your wrists straight.
  • Adjust your screen to be about one arm’s length away from your body. The top of the screen should be at eye level so you aren’t straining your neck.
  • Frequently used items should be within an arm’s length so you can avoid awkward reaching.
  • If an item from a shelf is needed, stand up and/or use a step stool to get the item, in order to minimize overhead reaching.
  • If you share a work station with people on another shift, you will want to adjust your work area (chair, computer screen, and items on your desk) to your needs before you begin your work day.
  • Change body positions frequently to maintain comfort and prevent stiffness.

Service jobs can range from sedentary to very active. Here are tips to help make your job as a service worker more comfortable and avoid reinjuring your knee or back: 

  • If you stand at a counter for long periods of time without being able to walk around, try using something available, such as a sit-lean stool, an anti-fatigue mat, or supportive footwear to reduce the pressure on your lower body. 
  • If you sit at a desk, sit tall, shoulders back, without arching your back. Make sure your feet are planted firmly on the ground. Avoid crossing your legs. 
  • Support your thighs and hips with a well-padded seat that’s parallel to the floor. Your knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle. 
  • When sitting, keep your knees about the same height as your hips, with your feet slightly forward. If you can’t raise or lower your chair to the right height, try using a footstool. 
  • If you’re on your feet a lot, wear supportive shoes. Replace the insoles of your shoes every few months to keep them supportive. 
  • As a general rule, most running and walking shoes last up to 500 miles. Signs that you’re ready for a new pair include new aches or pains in your feet, legs, knees, hips, or back after you've worn your shoes for a while. 
  • If you’re carrying items on your shoulders, try out shoulder padding. 
  • If you’re doing any lifting, use your legs. Do not bend at your waist with legs straight while lifting. 
  • If you’re moving heavy objects, try using a lifting platform, a wheeled table, or a cart for extra support. 
  • Rather than reaching above your shoulders or below your knees, try using a step stool or tools with extensions. A “grabber” with a long handle can help pick up small objects on the ground or overhead. 
  • Make sure there are anti-slip surfaces on the ground, so you don’t slip and fall on a slippery floor.

Industrial jobs are physically demanding. Here are some tips to help you avoid back and knee reinjuries on the job: 

  • If you stand or walk on a hard surface all day, try wearing an anti-fatigue matting overshoe to reduce fatigue. 
  • If you stand in one spot for long periods of time, anti-fatigue matting cushions your body from the floor and helps relieve fatigue from standing. 
  • Wear steel-toed shoes to protect your feet when they are recommended by your manager. Composite-toed footwear is a lighter option, but it may need to be approved by your employer. 
  • Only lift as much as you can safely handle on your own. Also, lift within your "power zone," which is above your knees, below your shoulders, and close to your body. If the item is bulky or awkward to handle, consider getting a coworker to assist you. 
  • Use tools with extensions so you can work comfortably while standing without reaching above your head. If you need to reach up, use a step stool to avoid putting your body in an awkward position. 
  • If you have to kneel, use a kneeling platform or kneeling creeper—a padded kneeling platform on wheels with chest support. 
  • Always use padded and protective gloves when you’re using equipment that vibrates, like power tools. These gloves should be form-fitted and be replaced when they are worn out. 
  • Change your body position to maintain comfort and prevent stiffness. 

The health-care industry is unique, as jobs in this industry may take place in a variety of settings—office, kitchen, maintenance, security, technical, laboratory, or patient care. You may perform office, service, and patient care tasks. Or maybe you do maintenance and technical work. 

Consider the following tips to help you maintain your comfort and avoid reinjuring your knee and back while working: 

  • If you’re on your feet a lot, wear supportive shoes or portable anti-fatigue matting overshoes. Replace the insoles of your shoes every few months to keep them supportive. Signs that you’re ready for a new pair include new aches or pains in your feet, legs, knees, hips, or back after you've worn your shoes for a while. 
  • Make sure there are anti-slip surfaces on the ground so you don’t slip and fall on a slippery floor. 
  • If you’re doing any lifting, use your legs. Do not bend at your waist with legs straight while lifting. 
  • If you’re moving heavy objects, try using a lifting platform, wheeled table, or cart for extra support. If the object is heavy, ask a coworker to help. 
  • Use tools with extensions so you can work comfortably while standing—not reaching above your head. If you need to reach up, use a step stool to avoid putting your body in an awkward position. 
  • If you share a work station with people on another shift, you will want to adjust your work area (chair, computer screen, and items on the desk) to your needs before you begin your work day. 
  • When sitting, keep knees about the same height as your hips, with your feet slightly forward. If you can’t raise or lower your chair to the right height, try using a footstool. 
  • Sit tall, shoulders back, without arching your back. Make sure your feet are planted firmly on the ground. Avoid crossing your legs. 
  • Your upper arms should be perpendicular to the floor. Your lower arms should be parallel to the floor, creating a 90-degree bend in your elbows. 
  • If items are stored above shoulder level, consider using a step stool to minimize overhead reaching/lifting. 
  • Change your body position frequently to maintain comfort and prevent stiffness. 
  • When pushing a wheelchair or gurney, keep it close to your body. Your back should be straight, and your knees should be slightly bent. Be sure to control your speed when you push wheelchairs or gurneys to reduce the strain on your body when you stop moving.
  • If you’re helping to move a patient, stand as close to the patient as possible. Lift within your “power zone” (above your knees, below your shoulders, and close to your body). Always get a coworker to help lift or move a patient, or use mechanical support if you think you cannot safely handle the person’s weight on your own.
  • Make sure you keep your knees bent and feet apart, and be sure you’re not off balance before you begin to lift. If you can, try using a slip sheet, slide board, sling, belt, or mechanical lift for extra assistance.
  • If you’re helping a patient in the bathroom, lift from your legs, not with your back. Raised toilet seats, shower chairs, and grab bars can be helpful.

The information provided is for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice. You should always consult with your doctor and consider all relevant factors when you make decisions related to your health-care.

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