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A Winter Guide to Travel Ergonomics

Wednesday, January 06, 2010
By Anne Kramer

Many people find themselves traveling this time of year, and taking work on the road often becomes a necessity. With the right tools, it is easy to create a productive and safe mobile office.

Support the Back and Legs

Long journeys place stress on the muscles in the back and shoulders, because sitting requires static posture. Improper posture can lead to pain and muscle fatigue in the upper and lower back. Several steps can help prevent these injuries:

  • Take a break every so often, to shift positions or take a walk. Get out of the car on rest breaks or refueling stops, or take a stroll up the center aisle in the airplane.
  • Bring along a lumbar cushion. Inflatable models easily fit into carry-on bags and work with any seating.
  • Distribute carried weight evenly whenever possible. Use an ergonomic backpack with padded straps for carry-on items, and add luggage handles to rolling bags.
  • Use a hands-free device when talking on a cell phone. These devices prevent unnatural bending of the neck, shoulders, and upper back muscles.
  • Pack a portable footrest for use in the car or airplane. Footrests elevate the legs, promoting circulation and eliminating stress on the muscles in the legs. A folding footrest is also an excellent way to adapt desks in hotels or guest rooms.

Protect the Arms, Wrists, and Hands

Portable electronics like laptops are designed for convenience, but not always for comfort or safety. While the large muscle groups in the back shield the delicate spine from injury, the nerves and bones in the arms, wrists, and hands are more susceptible to stress. Ergonomic equipment and interventions prevents the formation of repetitive stress injuries (RSI) like carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • A full-size keyboard promotes proper posture of the wrists and arms. Folding or roll-up keyboards are travel-friendly options.
  • Using laptop track pads frequently places stress in the shoulders or upper back. A travel mouse prevents this fatigue.
  • One office tool already suited to travel is a wrist rest, which provides cushioning and promotes correct typing posture. The gel strips fit tidily in any carry-on and work with any laptop, mouse, or keyboard.
  • For tasks that require handwriting, a clipboard or stiff binder can work as a temporary slant board.
  • Taking the time to stretch the arms, wrists, and hands eases the tension created by computer use, which can be exacerbated by traveling conditions.

Winter travel plans often include working on the go. The right tools can improve posture and prevent fatigue. With ergonomics, it is simple to ensure that workflow will not be interrupted by muscle strain or injuries.

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