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Telephones: Is Yours a Pain in the Neck?

Monday, October 05, 2009
By Anne Kramer

The telephone is a vital tool in today’s workplace. In many cases, it may be used as frequently, or even more so, than the computer. Yet constant use of the telephone can result in neck, back and shoulder pain. Applying ergonomic principles to the workstation can protect against this muscle fatigue and related repetitive stress injuries (RSI).

Most people do not notice the physical stress of using a telephone until they experience pain or injury. However, traditional use of the telephone poses several ergonomic hazards that are easily prevented:

  • Many people place the phone too far from their primary work areas, meaning that they have to reach farther to use it. This stretching and overextension leads to pain in the shoulder, arm, and neck.
  • Wedging the phone between the shoulder and ear is common practice for those who want hands-free use. This pinching results in undue stress, along with nerve compression, in the neck and shoulders. These conditions can lead to a variety of problems in the arms, hands, and spine.
  • A tangled cord limits the phone handset’s mobility, forcing the user to adopt awkward positions that may require slouching or other unnatural postures.
  • Maintaining the same static position during long phone calls increases tension in the back and shoulders.
  • Leaving the phone on the same side of the workstation all the time places disproportionate stress on one side of the body.

Thoughtful workstation design, the right ergonomic equipment, and sound work habits eliminate the risk of these injuries. The following steps will take the pain right out of phone use:

  • The phone should be placed within arm’s length of the user, in easy reach. A phone stand or arm will elevate the phone, making it more ergonomically friendly for hands, wrists, and arms during use.
  • Combat the need to wedge the phone’s handset and the tangled mess of a cord by using a hands-free headset. In addition to freeing the hands, headsets improve posture of the head and neck. This extra mobility and safety also promote productivity.
  • If a headset is not an option, a phone cushion minimizes bending of the neck, reducing some of the nerve compression caused by holding the phone between the ear and shoulder.
  • During long phone calls, it is important to shift positions, to balance weight and stress on different muscle groups. The added flexibility of a headset means that workers can even stand or walk around while on the phone.
  • If possible, it is beneficial to regularly switch the phone to the other side of the workstation. This eliminates unbalanced use of only one side of the body, preventing RSI caused by unequal distribution of effort and weight.

Using the telephone is an everyday necessity in today’s workplace. To alleviate the pain associated with daily phone activity, workers can apply ergonomic principles to their workstation, protecting their health and improving their productivity.

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