When to Buy an Armrest
Armrests aren't just for cupholders and airplane rides—they're relevant in the workplace, too. The importance of armrests has been debated by physical therapists and doctors when studying the effects of repetitive work positions at a desk.
There are lots of chairs on the market that feature highly adjustable armrests, as well as padded armrests that mount to a work surface. The big question is: are they beneficial? Some people are happiest when their chair armrests are entirely gone. Why is this so?
What An Armrest Can Do For You
One of the most common reasons that people prefer having office chair armrests (or just a better armrest) is to help relieve muscle tension and pain in the neck, shoulder, upper back, and forearms. If a worker's station allows them to keep their arms far away from their sides, for example, and hunched forward to use the keyboard or mouse, then the shoulder muscles are constantly working, and they begin to tire in this awkward position. Over time, this can cause muscle strain and further problems.
This problem often occurs when the keyboard or mouse pad is set too high, which doesn't allow for comfortable positioning. One of the greatest benefits of armrests is that the chair's occupants can alleviate this discomfort with just a few simple adjustments.
In order for armrests to be a good solution to fatigue, they must be positioned so that the user's shoulders are relaxed and the upper extremities can be left at rest. Accomplishing this usually means that a change in the height of the keyboard or mouse must occur. This adjustment in posture is a great potential solution to the pain and muscle fatigue associated with desk work.
The Ideal Armrest
Armrests can help prevent the onset of neck pain and provide some relief to office workers, but it has to be the right kind of armrest. Look for an armrest length that feels comfortable for you, as well as one that has a soft fabric cover that's machine washable.
Preventing Repetitive Motion Disorders With Arm Rests
Musculoskeletal disorders, including repetitive motion disorders, cumulative trauma disorders, and repetitive stress injuries, can be avoided by recognizing and avoiding any trauma that is secondary to repetitive motion, poor posture, compression, and force. A neutral posture, with the arm and shoulders resting in a normal position as much as possible, is highly recommended to avoid these kinds of injuries.
If you're at a computer for many hours of the day, find a natural position for comfort, using a good armrest on your chair for good forearm support. Your mouse or touchpad should be at the same height as the armrest, so any motion you use with the mouse or touchpad is not unnatural, twisting in nature, or causing discomfort. This can often be achieved thanks to ergonomic chairs that have adjustable height options or movable armrests.
A large double-blind testing group was studied in an environment that promoted this type of working position. The study found unequivocally that the constant use of forearm support in a neutral position by a desk, armrest, or wrist rest, resulted in an avoidance of inflammatory problems that are consistent with overuse syndromes and repetitive motion disorders.
Basics of Overuse Syndromes
The most common repetitive motion disorders are:
The most common causes of repetitive motion injuries include:
- Long periods of uninterrupted activities or motions
- Overexertion of specific muscle groups or areas of the body
- Unnatural motions, such as repetitive twisting motions of the hand, arm, or wrist
- Muscle fatigue
- Poor posture
- Frequent muscle fatigue
The most common areas affected by repetitive motion injuries are:
Disorders caused by repetitive motion can also occur in the neck, back, knees, hips, legs, ankles, and feet. Repetitive motion disorders are usually identified by problems that include pain, numbness, tingling, inflammation, electrical sensations, visible redness or swelling, and a loss of normal range of motion. In some cases, there may be little or no visible signs of any kind of injury, besides the inability to perform repetitive tasks.
If left untreated, repetitive motion injuries can cause inflammatory issues that cause temporary or even permanent damage to nerves, muscle groups, tendons, and ligaments. These types of injuries can cause tissue swelling, eventually damaging nerve, muscle, and connective tissues.
Repetitive Activities and Jobs That Are High Risk
- Computer work
- Playing certain musical instruments
- Gaming/video games
- Assembly line/factory
Underlying Medical Conditions That Exacerbate Repetitive Motion Damage:
Certain health conditions can cause the obstruction of blood flow to the wrist and forearm, making inflammatory processes worse, increasing the odds of nerve damage, and placing particular damage on the median nerve. Some of the chronic health problems which can exacerbate carpal tunnel and similar inflammatory forearm/shoulder problems can include:
- Autoimmune disorders, including arthritis
- Hormonal changes during pregnancy and menopause
- Thyroid problems
- Type II Diabetes
- Previous injury, including dislocation or fracture of the wrist, shoulder, or forearm
Seeking Relief for Repetitive Motion Disorders
To help avoid further irritation and inflammation of tissues, here are some things you can do to help:
- Make sure to give yourself frequent breaks in repetitive work to give strained tissues time to rest
- Implement and do stretching exercises regularly
- Ice down the painful, affected area often
Take NSAIDs, corticosteroids, or other medication as advised by your caregiver
- Wear any splints that your doctor suggests to provide relief to irritated muscles, tendons, and nerves
- Go to physical therapy as often as your health care practitioner recommends
- In cases of severe pain and damage, surgical options are available if more conservative treatment fails to help the problem
The Importance of Armrests
When looking for arm support, take into consideration the height of the keyboard, mouse, or touchpad, and ensure that it is at a height that matches the armrest. You also want to be sure that you purchase armrests or armrest pads that are durable and follow the principles of ergonomics.
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