Every year, thousands suffer from sore eyes, aching backs, numb wrists, breathing problems, and stress-related health issues ranging from sleep apnea and high blood pressure to nervous collapse. These conditions are almost always related to work environments and the nature of work. For instance, if you spend hours at a computer poring over spreadsheets or working on a graphics program, you could end up with blurred vision and watery eyes, or even lower back pain if your chair isn't ergonomically designed or if you've been sitting in an incorrect position. You could suffer from lumbago if your work involves manual lifting and shifting of heavy loads. Or carpal tunnel syndrome if you have to use a mouse and a keyboard to feed information into a database.
Here are five common work-related ailments and DIY remedies for dealing with them.
Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain--or lumbago--is one of the most common job-related ailments. It is usually brought on by an accident resulting in back injury, weight lifting, improper posture, or an age-related spinal condition. Acute lower back pain can last a few days or up to three weeks and usually disappears on its own with self-medication. Sub-acute back pain can last four to 12 weeks, while chronic pain can persist for more than 12 weeks. In most cases, physiotherapy and medication bring relief, so if you have an ache in your lower back, don't let it worsen. Try these simple remedies and say goodbye to your misery.
You can do some exercises for pain relief:
- Lie flat on your stomach. Keeping your pelvis pressed against the floor, raise the front half of your body, arching backward by pushing against the floor with your palms. Do this twice a day, once in the morning and once at night.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent. With arms crossed over your chest and hands resting on your shoulders, raise your head and shoulders as high as you can while keeping your lower back pressed against the floor. Hold this position for a second. Repeat.
- Go swimming in a warm pool.
- Ride an exercise bike, making sure to sit upright while you pedal.
- Spend a day in bed. A recommended resting position is lying on your back with your head and neck on a pillow and another pillow under your knees.
- Massage the painful area with an ice pack for eight minutes. Do this thrice a day for a couple of days.
- Try a warm compress. Wring out a hand towel that has been soaked in warm water, then fold it and lay it across the small of your back as you lie flat on your stomach. Place a small plastic sheet over the folded towel and set a heavy book on it to keep the compress pressed against your back.
While all of the above treatment methods are tried and proven, prevention is better than cure. If you have a job that forces you to spend long hours at a desk, make sure your chair's backrest offers adequate lumbar support, and do not to slouch when sitting. Take breaks every 20 minutes to walk around and do some stretching exercises. Indeed, regular workouts, including brisk walking and yoga, will make you less prone to work-related ailments.
Read: How Office Ergonomics Can Help Prevent Back and Neck Pain
You would also have to make some lifestyle changes. If you're overweight, do something to shed those extra pounds, especially around the waist, where they place a strain on lower back muscles. If you're a smoker, quit immediately. Smoking contributes to spinal disc degeneration because it disrupts blood flow. It may result in coughing (which may lead to back pain), and it increases your chances of getting osteoporosis.
Poor sight is a natural consequence of aging, but life can get out of focus any time owing to eye strain. If you spend hours staring at a computer or television monitor, reading in dim light, or working on something fine like embroidery, you could end up with blurry vision, watery eyes, or both.
Here are some steps you may take to deal with the problem:
- Use an over-the-counter (OTC) eye lubricant if you're suffering from dryness in addition to blurred vision.
- Rest your eyes by keeping them closed for ten minutes and as still as possible. If you can't manage this, place cupped palms over your eyes and look blankly into the darkness.
- Lie on your back and place a cold compress (used tea bags are great) over your closed eyes. Keep the compress on for about 10 minutes, then turn it around after it warms, and then repeat the process with the cold side against your eyes.
- Give your eyeballs a gentle massage by running your fingertips clockwise and then anticlockwise over your closed eyelids for a minute or so.
- Reduce the brightness of your computer monitor to comfortable levels (or use a glare-reduction screen) and remember to take a break from computer work every twenty minutes. Visit the washroom to splash some water on your face, treat yourself to a drink at the water dispenser, or take a stroll around the office.
- Just a couple of minutes of eye exercise can work wonders. Close your eyes and roll them slowly, clockwise and then counter-clockwise. Or stare at a distant point without focusing and repeatedly blink (but slowly), keeping your eyes closed for three seconds with each blink before opening them again.
- Drink at least 10 to 15 glasses of water every day. Water improves blood circulation in the eyes and thus prevents dryness. It also washes out toxins from the lymph fluid in the eyes and facilitates tear production.
- When reading, you should ensure that light falls on your book and not on your eyes. Ideally, the light source should be behind and to the left or right of you so that it provides enough contrast on the page and doesn't reflect into your eyes.
If you see distant objects sharp and clear but have trouble reading or have to peer at a computer monitor, you most certainly need reading glasses. Visit the optician to order a pair with the right power.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
You're busy typing a letter on the computer when your wrist begins to throb in pain. You're cutting veggies for the salad when your hand starts tingling and goes numb, forcing you to stop and give it a gentle massage. What you're suffering from is carpal tunnel syndrome, an inflammation of the tendons of your wrist brought on by repetitive stressful motions of the hand and wrist. The swollen tendons press against the median nerve that runs through the "tunnel" of your wrist, causing pain.
While carpal tunnel syndrome affects twice as many women as men, anyone can treat it with do-it-yourself therapy and medication. So next time your wrist begins to ache, or you feel that telltale tingle in your fingers, here's what to do:
- Keeping the affected hand slack, make gentle figure-eight movements for about five minutes to restore blood circulation in your wrist.
- Raise your hand above your head and rotate your arm while rotating your wrist.
- Give your hands a rest and turn your head left and right, looking over your shoulder at each turn. Then move your head backward and forward and tip it side to side.
- Treat yourself to aspirin. It relieves pain and reduces inflammation.
- If your wrist is swollen, bring quick relief with the application of an ice pack.
- When sleeping, you should ensure that your wrist is facing up and not hanging beside the bed. That will lessen blood pressure on the affected area and accelerate healing.
If the work you do involves constant use of your hand, make sure to take regular breaks and exercise your hands and wrists. A little exercise will go a long way towards keeping carpal tunnel syndrome at bay.
Do you often find yourself wheezing and coughing or experiencing shortness of breath or tightness in the chest? Then you could be suffering from work-related asthma, sometimes caused by breathing air containing irritants such as cigarette smoke, animal dander, dust, pollen, fungus, spores, or insecticide.
Some asthma attacks are brought on by sudden exposure to a high dose of irritants in the air (like insecticide, chlorine, or anhydrous ammonia), but most occur when a person has developed a sensitivity to specific agents in the workplace over an extended period. If you suffer from asthma attacks brought on by a substance in the air, submit to allergy tests so you can identify the allergen and take steps to avoid it.
Here are additional precautions to take to help you breathe easy:
- Avoid smoking and smoky environments like bonfires, barbecues, and rooms where smokers are puffing away.
- Take an after-dinner antacid to prevent acidity at bedtime, especially after a heavy meal. When lying horizontally, the stomach's acids can run upwards into your airways, leading to irritation and an asthma attack.
- Avoid breathing frigid air. If you have to go out in winter, then wear a scarf covering your throat and nose.
- Foods like milk, eggs, seafood, and nuts can trigger an asthma attack. So can salt, monosodium glutamate, and bisulfite (found in wine, shrimp, beer, and dry fruits). Be careful what you eat.
- Be sure to clean the air conditioner filter regularly--and cover your nose and mouth with a mask to avoid inhaling the dust.
Keep in mind that asthma symptoms could be a manifestation of more severe illnesses such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and lung disease related to HIV/AIDS. If you suffer from a chronic breathing disorder, it is best to get a diagnosis based on a thorough physical examination, which should involve various tests and a study of your family's health history.
Given the pace and tensions of life, it is not surprising that more people than ever suffer from stress-related health problems, including headaches, acidity, high blood pressure, depression, and insomnia.
Stress can wreak havoc on your personal and professional life, so pick up a few tips on stress management and live healthy and happy. The first step is to acknowledge that you're stressed. Then spend a while identifying the stressors in your work and life. There are those you can deal with and those you can't. For example, you can't change the behavior of a demanding boss, but you can reduce pressure with better time management and delegation of work.
Here are some things you can do to reduce stress:
- Take time off to pursue a hobby. Knowing that you're spending time doing something you enjoy will give you a sense of balance and achievement and reduce overall stress.
- Learn how to manage time better, so you can get a lot done and have time left over for leisure pursuits.
- Don't try to be a perfectionist. Do your best and move on. This way, you'll get more done without getting bogged down trying to be perfect.
- Get enough sleep. Cut down on watching late-night TV shows and drinking caffeine-rich drinks like tea, coffee, and certain carbonated beverages close to bedtime.
- Spend at least half an hour exercising each day.
Work is necessary, but it needn't get you down. With a little care, you can stay fit and productive and get more out of life than you bargained for!