This article is intended for any IT professional, not just those in the healthcare field. That said, given our experience, we will speak from a healthcare professional’s opinion, so please keep that in mind.
When it comes do demanding jobs, not many people think of desk jobs or anything involving computers or technology. However, that is often a misguided preconception. If you think about how many people rely on technology in their careers, as well as their everyday lives, that alone shows that there are substantial demands to keep technological services up and running. When it comes to the healthcare field, even more is at stake.
Medicine needs to run like a well-oiled machine that never stops. The balance between healthcare funding, available job positions, influx of those seeking care, and varying rates of hospital stays keeps everyone on their feet. Healthcare IT professionals are no exception to this, as they generally work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure routes of communication, data storage, and avenues for resources stay up and running, and ultimately remain accessible at all times.
So for the healthcare IT professional, what does this entail? Simply put, like most other healthcare professionals, it’s longer hours with fewer breaks. For those working primarily from on a computer, this may not sounds physically demanding, but over the course of time this sort of work schedule and environment can take its toll.
Hazards of Working on a Computer
Working on a computer for a short amount of time typically isn’t harmful, and in fact, can actually be somewhat relaxing. That said, long periods of time in a seated position looking at a screen can be terrible for posture, and over time this can wreak havoc on the body’s alignment. As posture continues to degrade, more and more health problems begin to present themselves. The worst part about this is that a condition that takes a really long time to develop usually takes a really long time to correct, so office work can actually be quite debilitating over the long term. Here are a few tips for maintaining your posture when working on a computer, or at least to help you avoid getting to a point where you are experiencing health problems.
- Try bringing your screen to eye level. This can be as simple as propping your monitor up on a stack of books. This works just as well with a laptop; however, with a laptop you will likely need an external keyboard in order to maintain a desirable arm position.
- With a computer at eye level, sit back with as straight of a posture as possible. Over the course of a day, it’s really easy to start leaning forward towards the screen to get a closer look. This will cause undue neck extension (poking your head out), which is one of the worst positions to bring your posture into.
- Consider a desk that can be moved into standing. This is often a much more difficult tip to follow through on, as employees are often limited to what their employer provides. That said, an argument can always be made in the case of health and wellness. Additionally, lower back problems are the leading cause of time missed at work. A standing desk will not only help your neck posture, but will also help fend off any back pain that develops due to working at a desk all day. That can be an enticing factor for your employer, as they would much prefer to pay you if you’re actually at work being productive!
- Take lots of tiny breaks if possible. This can be as simple as getting up and stretching for a few seconds and sitting back down to continue your work. The body wants to move, so let it do so when you can!
For more information about posture and ways to correct it, we tend to find Brace Access to be fairly useful most of the time, so feel free to check out their health information as well.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)
CTS is one of the most common conditions to develop as a result of typing on a keyboard. This is a long term condition that arises gradually in the wrist. At first it may just feel like a little bit of pain, stiffness, and maybe burning, but as time goes on the symptoms can get much worse and persistent, eventually making typing a nightmare.
So what is CTS and how can you treat or avoid it? CTS is compression of the median nerve in the carpal tunnel. The median nerve runs all the way from your neck, down your arm, and then it passes through the carpal tunnel in your wrist to supply various areas in your hand. It has to squeeze through this carpal tunnel with a bunch of other structures, including most of the forearm tendons that go tot he fingers. With long term typing, this tunnel can be placed in a narrowed position, which compresses all the structures passing through the carpal tunnel. As the median nerve is compressed over a long period of time it becomes damaged and potentially inflamed, lead to the debilitating symptoms.
Fortunately, there are ways to treat CTS. First, it’s most easily treated when caught early. For example, if you spend a lot of time typing and you notice pain or odd sensations in your hand or wrist, it could be worth getting checked out as soon as possible so you can prevent it from turning into an issue. The more it progresses, the more intense the therapy becomes, until eventually something like surgery may even be an option. So what can you do to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome?
- Take lots of small breaks, and when you do, give your wrists a chance to relax and move around a bit. Think of the position your wrists are in when you’re typing, and spend a few seconds bringing them into other positions that will help relive the pressure a bit.
- Talk to your doctor or physiotherapist. They can help design a prevention or treatment plan based on your personal medical history and individual job setting.
- Consider a CTS wrist brace. While many of these address the symptoms without actually treating the condition, the fact that they can offer some relief is still a huge benefit. Higher-end models can be used to help treat the position, but overall, they are typically design to help hold your wrist in a slightly neutral or flexed position to keep pressure off the median nerve. While you can do this longterm to hope that you give the nerve enough time to heal, if you do this with the aid of an external device all the time, your wrist will gradually become weaker and you will need to fully rely on the brace. A balance between rest/relief and working on maintaining those good positions on your own is usually the most desirable.
These are just a couple things to think about if you are working in the IT field, particularly in a healthcare setting. Unfortunately, they can be really difficult things to follow through on given they progress so gradually and take a long time to become noticeable. That said, simply being aware of these potential issues can help you nip them in the bud as soon as they arise, so just keep a look out and try to practice healthy habits at the computer!