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Ergonomics Continued: Microbreak a Repetitive Strain


 by Ingo Zirpins, MSPT, published in The Union

A repetitive strain injury (RSI), is commonly defined as a damage to muscles, tendons, or nerves from repeated motions or constant static holding patterns.  Most RSIs affect necks, shoulders, elbows, wrists or hands with injuries such as nerve or tendon impingements, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndromes and more.  


One might wonder why the average typists of the 1950s had a lesser propensity for repetitive strain injuries (RSI) than secretaries or computer workers of the modern age?


The answer might lie in the variability of activities required to complete the job tasks. For example,  the typist in the 50s had to load paper into a typewriter, adjust the type guide, type the letter, activate the carriage return lever at every end of a type row, and when finished,  pull the paper

out, feed, wetten and label an envelope to eventually deposit the masterpiece manually wherever it needed to go. Nowadays, through technological advancements all these dynamic movements are getting eliminated. A document is typed, corrected, and delivered with mere flickers of a few muscles of the wrist, navigating keyboards and mice, while the rest of the body dwells in a static slump of inactivity.


In any static (non-moving) position, muscles are activated to maintain posture. However, if held for prolonged times, those muscles fatigue. Fatigue will change to compensatory posturing, which can lead to tissues getting strained and damaged,  blood flow being impeded, and nerves getting impinged. Studies also suggested a 34% increase in mortality risk for adults who sit 10 hours per day, and increased sedentary times have been correlated to heightened cardiovascular issues, elevated blood pressure, high blood sugar, obesity and abnormal cholesterol levels.


Obviously,  this does not only pertain to office workers, but to anyone forced to or choosing to stay in fairly constant posturing, as commonly seen when  studying, researching, reading and writing texts on smart devices, social networking, playing video games, watching TV, driving long distances, or working in repetitive task work environments.


Modern technology, such as computers, smart devices etc, appeared gradually over the past decades. Now, they noticeably involve themselves in our daily activities of life. While technology promises a more efficient way of life and communication, it also causes us to move and hold ourselves differently than we would without it.  


Staring at a screen for prolonged times, for example, whether it is a computer, TV,  or a smart device, is significantly strenuous on the eyes, leading to eye fatigue in as few as 2 hours, which can cause an overall decline in eyesight.


As technological advances have changed the way we hold ourselves in our world, we are forced to consciously bring back movement to our daily life to maintain vitality and prevent injury.


So, what to do?


First off, you have to pay attention to signs of fatigue and discomfort when working. If you listen, your body will tell when you need a break. However, as work and life in the electronic abyss  can be distracting, you might want to embrace the concept of microbreaks.


A microbreak is not a traditional work break, such as lunch. A microbreak is a break that is meant to be taken frequently, usually lasting 30 seconds to 5 minutes, and taken every 20-30 minutes to the hour. As California break laws require a 10 minute paid break to a 4-hour work period, one could legally implement up to  2.5 minutes of microbreaks every hour. Evidence suggests that microbreaks reduces muscle fatigue anywhere from 20-50 percent in an 8 hour work day. The intention is to break up repetitive tasks or static postures frequently, and to allow our wondrous bodies, that are composed of 55-60% of water, to remain fluid systems rather than stale swamps. 


Some ideas for microbreaks could be:

  • Perform light stretches of neck, shoulders, arms wrists, back and legs.

  • Move your body by shaking or wiggling it out.

  • Let your eyes relax by looking at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

  • Take short walks or walking meetings, go get water or go to the restroom.

  • Stand up while talking on the phone or watching TV.


Find more ideas for microbreaks, videos on quick stretching or movements and also links for apps and tools to set up reminders on your computer or phone below.


You might find that your body rewards you with greater ease, if you give it the attention it seeks.


Move better, live better!

Break reminder Apps: 



Click here for printable version.

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