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The Most Common Desk Job Injuries and How You Can Avoid Them

office work

Workplace injuries happen every 7 seconds. Just because you do office work doesn’t mean you’re safe from injuries. Your risks may not be as high as someone who works in the field or warehouse, but you’re still at risk for some of the most common workplace injuries.

Overexertion, including repetitive motions that are common in office work, account for 33.54% of workplace injuries. Slips, trips, and falls make up 25.8% of injuries.

It’s possible to injure yourself while you’re sitting at your desk or while you’re moving around to other parts of the office. While many injuries are minor, some are more severe, including ligament damage and head injuries. Those injuries can force you to miss workdays and take the sick time that you don’t want to use.

Being aware of common hazards at the office may help you stay safer on the job. Be proactive in identifying the risks at your job and taking steps to prevent those injuries. You can save yourself a lot of pain and missed workdays, and your company has fewer worker’s compensation claims.

Keep reading to learn about the most common office worker injuries and how to prevent them.

Repetitive Stress Injuries

A repetitive stress injury happens when you do the same motion over and over again during your job. It’s also called overuse syndrome, repetitive stress syndrome, cumulative trauma disorder, and repetitive motion disorder.

Doing the same action repeatedly can cause damage to your nerves, tendons, muscles, and soft tissues. You overuse those parts of the body, which causes the injury.

For office workers, the repetitive actions often happen with the hands and wrists. Typing or using your mouse all day are examples.

The simple act of doing those motions repetitively puts you at risk for injury. You likely can’t cut down on the amount of typing you do in a day.

But the positioning of your wrists can also increase your chances of injury. Poor positioning can constrict the nerves and potentially cause more pain or injuries.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common repetitive stress injury that can happen when you work at a computer all day long. The nerve that runs from the palm of your hand down your forearm becomes compressed and can cause numbness, weakness, and pain.

Office workers might also experience muscle sprains and strains due to repetitive actions. Tendonitis can happen when you do a repetitive or abnormal action involving a tendon. It causes inflammation that can be uncomfortable or limit your range of motion.

Prevention Tips

Using ergonomic office tools can minimize the repetitive stress that can cause injuries. An ergonomically designed keyboard and mouse along with a wrist pad for support can help align your wrists, forearms, and elbows properly to prevent injuries.

You can also keep your wrists, fingers, and hands safe by taking regular breaks. Stretch your wrists and hands as much as possible throughout the workday.

Alternate the type of tasks you do when possible so you’re not doing one activity for too long. Take a break from typing to fax documents, make copies, restock the office supplies, or meet with a coworker about a project. Plan your workday to give yourself variety in what you do.

Getting up from your desk, even briefly, can prevent overuse injuries. Massage areas of your body that seem stiff or tense.

Improving your health overall can also help prevent overuse injuries. Having stronger muscles supports your body and makes you more flexible. This can help minimize fatigue and minimize repetitive action injuries.

Slips, Falls, and Trips

Falling can be one of the biggest risks for office workers. It can happen when you’re sitting, standing, or walking around the office. Falls, slips, and trips can range from simply being embarrassing to causing severe injuries with lasting effects.

When seated, you can lose your balance in your chair and fall over. You might lean back a little too far in your chair or lean over too far when reaching for something.

Another potential chair danger happens when you use it as a step stool to reach something high. Chairs with casters on the base can roll out from under you and cause you to fall. A regular chair can tip over when you lean.

Many offices have tripping hazards throughout the space. Examples include extension cords, loose carpet, uneven flooring, open drawers, and items left in walkways. If the area isn’t lit well, the risks of tripping increase because workers can’t see the hazards.

Another potential risk is a slippery floor. Some flooring surfaces are more slippery than others. That can be worse when the floor gets wet due to cleaning or wet and snowy shoes.

If you trip or slip in the office, you may suffer a variety of injuries. Ankle injuries are common if you roll your ankle as you slip. You may also hurt your arm or wrist if you try to catch yourself as you fall.

Another more serious possibility is a head injury. You might hit your head on the corner of a desk or on the floor.

Prevention Tips

If you notice potential tripping or slipping hazards, bring them up to your supervisor or to the human resources department. OSHA requires employers to provide a workplace free of hazards. Point out the potential hazards of various situations to encourage change.

Make safe choices yourself when working in the office. Avoid standing or leaning on your chair to prevent it from tipping. If you need to grab something, get up from your chair to grab it, and use a sturdy step stool instead of your chair if you need to reach something up high.

Keep your desk drawers closed. Keep your space free of boxes, materials, or other potential tripping hazards, especially in the main walking areas of your office.

Be aware of your surroundings when you’re at work. Avoid looking at your phone, reading the paperwork, or doing other distracting activities when you walk around the office. This helps you spot potential hazards sooner before they cause a fall. 

Neck and Shoulder Injuries

Office jobs often involve a lot of sitting at your desk. That may seem like a safe position, but sitting for so long can cause strain on your muscles. Your shoulders and neck, in particular, may become strained while sitting at a computer.

The strain happens because of the unnatural position of your body. The force on your body can decrease blood flow and irritate your muscles.

Preventing shoulder injuries starts by warming up before doing repetitive actions involving your shoulders. Taking breaks throughout the workday can help you give your shoulders a rest. Stretching at home and doing shoulder-strengthening exercises can also help your shoulders hold up better throughout the workday.

Prevention Tips

Posture has a major impact on how your shoulders and neck feel while sitting at your desk. Hunching over can cause pain or discomfort in your back, shoulders, and neck. Sit up straight to reduce the strain on those muscles.

Improving the ergonomics of your desk can also help reduce the strain. Here are some ergonomic strategies to make yourself more comfortable:

  • Adjustable chair with built-in lumbar support
  • Top of the computer monitor at or just below eye level
  • Monitor positioned at arm’s length from your face
  • Keyboard positioned directly in front of the monitor
  • Mouse on the same surface near the keyboard
  • Pad to support wrists when typing
  • Footrest to support your feet and allow for comfortable leg positioning
  • Headset for talking on the phone instead of propping the phone between your shoulder and head

Don’t be afraid to rearrange the items on your desk to make your workspace more functional. If you feel strain when you do regular work activities, consider how you can make changes to the space to ease that strain.

You can also reduce neck and shoulder injuries by getting up from your desk throughout the day. The strain comes from doing the same actions continuously. Just by getting up, walking around the office, or doing a few stretches, you can cut down on that strain.

Back Injuries

Back strains and other back injuries can happen when you lift items incorrectly. If you lift objects incorrectly, you can hurt the muscles in your back, which can cause long-term pain and discomfort. Low back injuries are one of the top workers’ compensation claims in the United States today.

Most office workers don’t lift too many items, but they may lift boxes of office supplies or materials used on the job. Even items that don’t seem too heavy, such as a box of copier paper or a computer monitor, can result in an injury if you lift them incorrectly.

Some office workers also end up with back pain due to sitting for so long. That’s especially common when you sit with poor posture.

If your back issues stem from sitting, add more support to your chair. If your office chair has built-in lumbar support, try adjusting it to provide better support. You can also add a lumbar pillow to your chair to provide extra support.

Prevention Tips

Always lift heavy objects the proper way. Squat down as close to the item as possible and lift with your legs instead of bending at the waist and lifting with your back.

Keep your knees bent and loose rather than locking them. Keep your back straight, avoiding any twisting actions that might cause injury to your back. 

When you carry the item to another area, hold onto it with your entire hand so you can keep a good grip on it. Hold the item as close to your body as possible to reduce strain.

When you get to the drop-off location, lower the item into place the same way you lifted it up. Use your legs to lower your body and move the item as close to the surface as possible. Avoid leaning over at the waist or using your back to lower the item.

Eye Strain

Another possible side effect of staring at a computer screen all day is eye strain. Focusing your eyes on the same screen for long periods can cause vision blurriness, headaches, and other discomforts. While those side effects usually don’t last, they can decrease your productivity and make you feel very uncomfortable while you’re at work.

Poor lighting can also contribute to eye strain. If you’re trying to read paperwork in poor lighting or read a computer screen that’s too dim, you may notice more strain on your eyes.

Prevention Tips

While you likely can’t avoid your computer screen for too long, you can give your eyes little breaks throughout the day. Even a brief glance away from your computer screen for a few seconds can help. Give your eyes a chance to focus on something in the distance.

A change in your computer monitor position can also help. If the monitor is too far away, you may need to strain to read the words, but sitting too close can also be difficult on your eyes. Try changing the position of the monitor if you feel strain in your eyes.

Position your computer monitor to avoid glare from lights. The glare can make it more difficult to read your computer screen well. You may have to shift to see the screen or squint to read the information easily.

Add supplemental lighting to your desk area if you have trouble seeing your work clearly. A desk lamp that focuses on your work surface can help. Make sure the lamp doesn’t create more glare on the computer monitor.

Prevent Office Work Injuries

Office work doesn’t seem too dangerous, but even working at a desk all day presents potential injury risks. Taking action yourself helps you improve your safety at work. Don’t be afraid to ask your supervisor or the human resources department to make accommodations and modifications to the work environment to keep you safer and healthier at work.

If you’ve suffered an injury in the office, contact us at 1-800-897-8440 to book an appointment with an experienced physician near you. Getting into the doctor quickly after an injury can help you get on the road to recovery faster.