Ingo Zirpins: Ergonomics continued — Microbreak a repetitive strain |

Ingo Zirpins: Ergonomics continued — Microbreak a repetitive strain

Ingo Zirpins

A repetitive strain injury (RSI) is commonly defined as a damage to muscles, tendons or nerves from repeated motions or constant static holding patterns. Most RSIs affect necks, shoulders, elbows, wrists or hands with injuries such as nerve or tendon impingements, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndromes and more.

One might wonder why the average typists of the 1950s had a lesser propensity for repetitive strain injuries (RSI) than secretaries or computer workers of the modern age?

The answer might lie in the variability of activities required to complete the job tasks. For example, the typist in the 50s had to load paper into a typewriter, adjust the type guide, type the letter, activate the carriage return lever at every end of a type row, and when finished, pull the paper out, feed, wetten and label an envelope to eventually deposit the masterpiece manually wherever it needed to go. Nowadays, through technological advancements all these dynamic movements are getting eliminated. A document is typed, corrected, and delivered with a mere flicker of a few muscles of the wrist, navigating keyboards and mice, while the rest of the body dwells in a static slump of inactivity.

In any static (non-moving) position muscles are activated to maintain posture. However, if held for prolonged times, those muscles fatigue. Fatigue will lead to compensatory posturing, which can cause tissues to get strained and damaged, blood flow being impeded, and nerves to get impinged. Studies also suggested a 34% increase in mortality risk for adults who sit 10 hours per day, and increased sedentary times have been correlated to heightened cardiovascular issues, elevated blood pressure, high blood sugar, obesity and abnormal cholesterol levels.

Obviously, this does not only pertain to office workers, but to anyone forced to or choosing to stay in a fairly constant static posture, as commonly seen when studying, researching, reading and writing texts on smart devices, social networking, playing video games, watching TV, driving long distances, or working in repetitive task work environments.

Modern technology, such as computers, smart devices etc, appeared gradually over the past decades. Now, they noticeably involve themselves in our daily activities of life. While technology promises a more efficient way of life and communication, it also causes us to move and hold ourselves differently than we would without it.

As technological advancements have changed the way we hold ourselves in our world, we are forced to consciously bring back movement to our daily life to maintain vitality and prevent injury.

What to do?

First off, you have to pay attention to signs of fatigue and discomfort. If you listen, your body will tell you when you need a break. However, as work and life in the electronic abyss can be distracting, you might want to embrace the concept of microbreaks.

A microbreak is not a traditional work break, such as lunch. A microbreak is a break that is meant to be taken frequently, usually lasting 30 seconds to 5 minutes, and taken every 20-30 minutes to the hour. In the work environment, California break laws require a 10-minute paid break to a 4-hour work period. This allows you to legally implement up to 2.5 minutes of microbreaks every hour.

Evidence suggests that microbreaks reduces muscle fatigue anywhere from 20-50 percent in an 8 hour work day. The intention is to break up repetitive tasks or static postures frequently, and to allow our wondrous bodies, that are composed of 55-60% of water, to remain fluid systems rather than stale swamps.

Microbreaks can be taken anywhere, whether you are at work, or at home.

Ideas for microbreaks

Perform light stretches of neck, shoulders, arms wrists, back and legs.

Move your body by shaking or wiggling it out for 30 seconds.

Let your eyes relax by looking at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds, as prolonged static focus can lead to eye fatigue after a mere 2 hours.

Take short walks or walking meetings, go get water or go to the restroom.

Stand up while talking on the phone or while watching TV.

Visit our website at to find more specific ideas for microbreaks, videos on quick stretch and movement suggestions, and also links for apps and tools to set up reminders for break times on your computer or phone.

You might find that your body rewards you with greater ease and comfort, if you give it the attention it seeks.

Move better, live better!

Ingo Zirpins, MSPT, has been a physical therapist for 17 years, specializing in Orthopedic Manual and Sports Medicine. He co-owns Fit for Life Physical Therapy in Grass Valley with his partners Corey Vanderwouw and Mags Matthews.

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