Do you take stretch breaks?

Question: Incidentally, since your work is obviously much keyboarded intense, do you take stretch breaks? And do they help?

Answer 1: Not as such no, certainly not to order or as part of a specific routine to my working day. I probably should do but my work just won’t allow specific breaks both in terms of the process and timing of what I do and the fact that I don’t have a time allowance to do it (we’ve been through this before – I have to account for every 5 minutes of my day as chargeable client time so it is difficult). Then again, my work isn’t just keyboard intensive per se but also totally deskbound and that is one of my major problems. I’m really more of a paper, file and calculator shuffler forced to use computers as well as, rather than a keyboarder per se, and in that lies the problem.

Some days I can go for hours not using the keyboard at all, other days I’m using it all day – and it isn’t keyboarding that causes the problems but doing that and other things at the same time. In fact, I can go all day just keyboarding (with or without scrolling) if I can achieve my preferred relaxed (non-ergonomically approved but works for me) position. Thing is, my problems aren’t really in my hands and wrists as they are with so many people (subject to trackballs!) but in my shoulders, neck and upper back and I believe caused a lot by a combination of a bad workstation design, a chair which is way too huge for me and offers no support (still trying to find one that fits!), too small a VDU and a job that requires me to do everything at once in such a way that there isn’t an ergonomic/correct/easy way of doing it (yes, even Access to Work and their Occupational Therapists have given up on me saying it can’t be done). It’s basically sitting upright and using a desk/paperwork and computer at the same time that causes my problems, and I can’t find any stretches (and I have looked and experimented) that give any relief short or longer term.

I think that at the stage I have got to the damage has already been done and that the best I can try and do is rest as much as I can, not do the things which cause pain (if only) and keep on trying to get or design some equipment and a job design that makes life easier for me (not as easy as it sounds, I’m finding). And, strange as it sounds, writing these e-mails is often a break for me (or at least a rest from pain – work that one out!) (It also counts towards my lunch break but hey – there’s nothing else to do around here except sit at my desk reading or surfing anyway.) However, I do try where possible to find an excuse to go for a walk around the office and have started to get stroppy and force myself to do this when the pain starts getting bad: but basically these days I just live in 8 hour a day pain to some degree or other and haven’t yet found a way to stop it from reoccurring as soon as I start work again – still, I’m learning all the time as to what is causing it and taking what steps I can do alleviate said causes/activities.

I do sometimes try to stretch out my upper back muscles when I feel they need it, in accordance with exercises that a physio/masseuse recommended, but I can’t say that it helps. (Nor did they really help when practiced according to instructions at home.) I also try to rest back in my chair as often as I can, which I find does help – one of my problems is simply exhausted back/postural muscles, the other main one being the need to reach out my arms. However, back to the plot – I know that stretching exercises/breaks are certainly recommended and that many people on the list have said that they help a lot. I would certainly wholeheartedly recommend them from a theoretical point of view to stop problems happening in the first place. Maybe if I’d known about them when all this first started I’d be in a better position today – then again, if I’d even heard of RSI and its links to computer use back then I’d not be here either. In an ideal world, every employer should display a huge wall chart to tell their employees what stretches to do and when to take breaks – and another flock of pigs flaps its lazy way past my window. Hope that answers your question! Any suggestions are, of course, more than welcome if you have any.

Answer 2: I had a similar problem with my chair at work. It was huge and I’m a tiny 5′ 2″. I now have a ‘Gregory chair’ that has been tried and tested by the company physio. It comes in 2 sizes, for us shorties, and has adjustable everything on it. I certainly felt more comfortable immediately from using it. Maybe your office furniture supplier will let you trial one. For anyone tall on the list – the tall people in the office had problems with it, so I wouldn’t recommend it! Hope this helps you sit comfortably.

Answer 3: I probably should do but my work just won’t allow specific breaks both in terms of the process and timing of what I do and the fact that I don’t have a time allowance to do it (we’ve been through this before – I have to account for every 5 minutes of my day as chargeable client time so it is difficult). – Amazing – one would think there is no law in this country. This is in direct breach of the DSE Regs unless you are doing non-DSE oriented work frequently enough to break up each hour. Curious too that it should all be recorded! This would make suing them really easy! I remain astonished by the naivety of many employers.

Answer 4:  Completely agree with you. Some solicitor would have a field day with her case – shame my boyfriend works for the other side now or I’m sure he would have taken this on.

Answer 5: As a fellow Health and Safety Adviser, I agree with you. In addition, where managers say that staff cannot take breaks because of the cost, I turn it around and ask if they can afford the cost of staff being off sick, as a result of not taking breaks (never mind the possible cost of any litigation and compensation further down the line). I use a similar argument when they say there is no budget to buy a footrest, or whatever. By the way, if you have systems such as Microsoft Schedule+, you can set up reminders to take breaks, as appointments, say, every 30 minutes – no need to buy special software. I hope these ideas help.

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