From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Reporter’s Pain Makes a Case for Early Ergonomic Intervention

In October Washington Post reporter Robin Wright blamed the ergonomics of the armrests on her new office chair, in part, for an “enduring medical misadventure.” The blame is misplaced. Ergonomics could have saved months of suffering and thousands of dollars.

Within a couple of months of getting the chair in late 2003, Wright explained, “a sharp, electrifying pain shot through my upper left arm whenever I raised it, picked something up, rolled over on my left side in bed or even tried to brush my hair.” The company nurse suggested lowering the armrest. When the pain didn’t get better, Wright consulted an orthopedist. An X-ray revealed a calcium deposit within a shoulder tendon. “As the new chair jammed my upper arm up against the deposit,” she wrote, “the area became inflamed.”

Cortisone shots worked for ever-shorter periods, and the specialist recommended arthroscopic surgery to remove the calcium. More cortisone treatments and another surgery followed several months later. “And still the pain came back,” she wrote.

The story doesn’t have a happy ending. Despite many other kinds of therapies and interventions since late 2003, Miller has developed a virtually untreatable painful condition referred to as frozen shoulder.

Before denouncing her medical treatment at length, she blamed the chair. “Ergonomics pays little attention to office chair armrests, but they can trigger serious problems – and complications,” she concluded.

She couldn’t be more wrong. Ergonomics pays close attention to every part of the chair – not excepting armrests. Consulted early, a qualified ergonomist — one who understands that a chair is one component in a system that includes other furniture and work tools, and a unique worker performing unique tasks — would have analyzed the problem and detected contributing factors. The solution might have been as simple as expert adjustments, removing the armrests, or even replacing the chair. Instead, the situation evolved into a complicated and very expensive medical management failure.

Source: The Washington Post

Editor’s note: Ergonomic chairs are designed to help reduce the risk of injuries. “Where Does the Injured Worker Go?” in the December 1, 2004, issue of The Ergonomics Report™, explains the options for employees with pre-existing medical conditions.