Monday, 30 April 2012

Mother's Day special - the pregnant lady at work

With Mother's Day just around the corner, here's one for the mums-to-be out there! 

As if needing to pee frequently, food cravings and nausea wasn't enough to deal with while pregnant, you may also be experiencing increased low back pain, sciatica (when the pain shoots down the bottom and into one or both legs), and pelvic pain. And as much as you try to sit up straight, there is a big belly that stops them from getting close enough to their desk (especially in the 3rd trimester!).

I recently did an assessment for a woman who had 3 weeks left of work before starting maternity leave (was 34 weeks pregnant), and was experiencing intolerable back pain. The assessment identified that she was working at a rectangular desk and using two monitors, plus a laptop that was placed on the left side of the desk. By  turning between the three monitors, she was continuously rotating her spine all the way from her neck to her low back. Luckily her work had kidney-shaped desks and she was able to move to one of those. We were able to eliminate one of two monitors, thus centralising the main monitor and adjusting it to the correct viewing height, and then moved the laptop (used only as a reference) closer to the monitor and elevated it with books to the level of the monitor. The desk was height adjustable, but as she found that she was leaning forward throughout the day, I recommended a small footrest to encourage her to lean back into her chair. The backrest was adjusted to provide the best support for her back and a document holder put in place to eliminate her neck rotation and flexion when entering data. She noticed a difference immediately and was able to maintain working for the remaining few weeks. 

Here are some tips:

  • As tempting as it is to sit sideways to get closer to the desk, try to maintain a neutral spine as much as possible. Remember the phrase 'Nose and Toes' and always try to face your nose and toes in the same direction to avoid straining your back.
  • Check the backrest of your chair - the lumbar support should be nestled into the small of your back, not near your bottom. While you're at it, check the tilt of the backrest as well and adjust it for comfort.
  • Make sure your feet are flat on the floor. If they can't reach the floor without you moving forward in your seat, get a footrest to elevate the floor surface to you. This is really important and will make a big difference. It should be at a level where your thighs are parallel to the floor or slightly sloping down.
  • Keep your most frequently used items on the desk as close to you as reasonably possible. Even if that's your tissue box - you need to avoid repetitively over-reaching. Keep things within an arms reach. 
  • Check your monitor height (especially if you use a laptop). Avoid neck flexion where possible by bringing the screen up so that your eye level is in the top 1/3 of the screen. So, if you are using a laptop, that means elevating the laptop with a laptop stand and then using an external keyboard and mouse so that you're not stretching out to work. 
  • Most importantly - take breaks away from sitting! This doesn't mean taking 10 minutes for a cuppa every hour, just changing your posture with a walk around the office, walking to the printer or refilling a glass of water. Try for a posture change every 30 minutes. 
Hope that helps! 

(If you are experiencing increased pain while sitting at your desk, it is advisable to have a professional ergonomic assessment. Contact your preferred provider or Get Ergonised to arrange an assessment).

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