Acute and chronic musculoskeletal complaints and work-related injuries are on the rise, but why? One glaring reason is two out of every three Americans sit for all or part of their work day at a computer station.1 This exposes workers to awkward postures, repetitive motions of the upper extremities as well as sustained postures that can create a multitude of spinal and muscular complaints. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, trigger finger, golfer’s or tennis elbow, along with cervical and lumbar disorders are examples of a few conditions that can be alleviated through appropriate ergonomics.
A second issue, according to anthropometric measurements (the comparative study of sizes and proportions of the human body), is that a standard desk is made to fit the height of the 95th percentile of all men! This is absurd, considering this means you have to be 6 feet 3½ inches tall to appropriately fit at a standard desk. We have to consider that 90% of people (male or female) fall between 5 feet 3 inches tall and 6 feet ½ inch tall.
If you were at work today lifting a heavy box or at your adult league soccer game this evening and now your low back is locked in a spasm…what course of treatment would you pursue? Self treat with ice and advil and give it a few days to see how it responds? Immediately go to urgent care for evaluation and possible x-rays? Swear off the medical profession and have a beer to ease the pain? Look up home remedies on your computer for treating an acute back injury? (By the way I just did this and supposedly 1 tbsp of black coffee inside your compression wrap may help reduce swelling…who knew?)
What I’m getting at is we all have different ways of dealing with injuries and pain. Some may seem more extreme than others, but due to personal experiences or family upbringing we usually have a set way of dealing with physical trauma. For those growing up thinking you could rub dirt on any injury, these people will tend to self-treat more often. Others prefer reassurance and expertise by seeking an evaluation by a medical professional. Gaining in popularity, many are starting to choose a non-traditional western approach and will seek the advice and treatment of an acupuncturist, craniosacral therapist, reiki master or energy balancer.
Personally, I believe all the different treatment options available have an important place in today’s society. The biggest question is when to use which tool. Maybe the back injury wasn’t nearly as bad as it initially felt and you didn’t need to go to urgent care right away. Maybe your back pain would have cleared up through self-treatment by applying ice and resting. But maybe not, maybe this injury was much worse this time and possibly even a herniated disc. These symptoms wouldn’t have cleared up after a week and there is even a chance you could be doing more damage by continuing to work or play.
I don’t have a magic answer for you. Instead I ask everyone to assess their own unique and established treatment philosophy and not be afraid to break out of this mold. If you have been suffering from neck pain or radiating pain for several years why not go see a physical therapist. If you haven’t been to the doctor in 20 years, maybe it’s time to start going for an annual physical. If you have chronic headaches and your only treatment for the last few years is daily aspirin, why not go see an acupuncturist. Change is difficult, but living with pain and not exploring the different therapy options available to you could be costing you your happiness.
Nathan Dufault, ATC
Nathan has been a certified athletic trainer since 2003. He is currently the office manager and co-owner at Mindful Motion Physical Therapy, LLC in Madison, Wisconsin.
These are the thoughts and opinions of the author and they do not constitute medical advice. For advice on medical issues you should always consult your local medical practitioner.