Unresolved body aches from new desk job?
May 14, 2018 8:04 PM   Subscribe

I recently started a new job as a data entry clerk and have been experiencing an indescribable amount of body aches/pains all over. I've had two desk jobs before this and have never experienced anything like this before. I'm struggling to find a solution and am feeling very hopeless. Does anyone have any advice?

After getting laid off from my last job and struggling with unemployment, I landed a job as a data entry clerk at a local company through a hiring agency. I was weary at first but things are good - the company tends to hire people on full-time within a good turnaround time, the commute is great and so are the hours/breaks and the pay is decent. No PTO or benefits at this point since I'm technically a "temp" but other than that, the company itself seems good, at least for now. After working 2 stressful jobs and getting laid off the last one, I very much wanted a stable job with good pay and hours, and the monotonous workload actually almost feels relaxing in some ways. I do want to keep the job.

However, I'm feeling very hopeless because I've started experiencing intense body/muscle pains since starting a week ago. Things were okay the first couple of days, but by Wednesday of last week, my lower back was killing me, and so were my thighs and my shoulders, neck and upper arms. I figured the ergonomics of my work station were all off, after all my legs were dangling from my desk when I pulled the seat up to type, and the built-in keyboard tray doesn't fit the mouse. In addition, the expensive ergonomic chair my company uses (A Steelcase Leap chair) didn't seem to fit me very well, despite the adjustments I tried to make for it. I am about 5"3 and weigh a little over 100 pounds, and I felt like the seat's curved lumbar support was hurting my back.

By the end of my first week, I was SORE. Like, got hit by train or went to the gym 5 days a week sore, all over. I couldn't believe it. I was in tears. I did some research and decided to invest in a lumbar support pillow, seat cushion to elevate myself and a footrest. I ordered these items off Amazon so they've all been arriving sporadically. I brought the lumbar support pillow with me to work today and didn't feel any better. I was told I could swap my chair out for a different one, so I found a different chair in an empty cubicle and grabbed it. The lower back support felt better, and I do like the new chair a lot more despite it being less adjustable than the other one, but unfortunately the new chair's armrests don't lower much, so I can't really use the built-in keyboard tray with it (plus the tray itself is tilted at a weird angle, towards me in a positive tilt which feels weird). If it weren't for the pain, I feel like the work would be a breeze compared to my old jobs, and yet I'm in so much pain that I'm actually considering quitting because I'm already dreading spending another 8 hours seated like that. Is that crazy?! I know I tend to overreact sometimes and engage in cognitive distortions like extreme or black and white thinking, but things in my life have already been so hard that it feels like a punch in the face to get a new job and new routine going, only to end up in pain by 5pm every day.

I was told that I could get an ergonomic assessment with a doctor's note. Is this a good idea? I'm feeling really torn here. I don't know what to do. I don't want to make too much of a fuss because I am new, and a temp, and there are other women who are just as short as me and I can't figure out how they're sitting comfortably at their workstations. I'm also only 24 and feel embarrassed by having an external ergonomist come in and assess things. Going to the doctor also requires spending money on an Uber or taking (unpaid) time off work after having just started the job. I don't want to draw too much attention at myself, in an effort to avoid any workplace politics (this might be my anxiety/PTSD popping up from previous jobs?). But yeah, things just feel off. My shoulders and neck are so tense right now. I don't even have a "proper ergonomic set up" at home with my PC, and yet I used to comfortably come home and play video games at the end of the day and now I can barely enjoy my home PC. Despite (mostly) fixing the lower back issue today, I still left work with some major shoulder, neck and upper arm pains. I was using the low keyboard tray to type, but still had to extend my arms across the desk to grab paperwork for the data entry, and I might've been craning my neck somehow to look at the monitors? I honestly can't tell what's right or wrong at this point! I got a foot rest I'll be bringing with me tomorrow and possibly from VHS tapes to use to prop the monitors up a bit (I'd appreciate any alternative suggestions - I couldn't find anything else in my apartment for this)

I guess I'm just really at a loss here, because the last few months have been a living hell, and I was excited to finally find a job that fit my needs, and now I'm in an intense amount of pain just after my first week of work. To add to that, I'll be taking a Greyhound bus for 8 hours at the end of the week for a trip to visit a friend. I've been looking forward to for months, and I'm now dreading it and worrying about not enjoying it/ruining it because I'll likely be just as sore by Friday.

I guess what I'm asking is, what do I do? How do you get by when things like this happen? Does anyone else relate? Are there any fixes that don't involve complicated things like a standing desk or a new chair or a new desk, which are basically all things my company can't provide? I'm starting to feel like everything in my life is becoming unnecessarily difficult, from maintaining my mental health at the beginning of the year to simply waking up in the morning. I had a good routine going which I was just proudly and optimistically discussing with my therapist last week(!) and now I just feel frail, weak and useless.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I was told that I could get an ergonomic assessment with a doctor's note. Is this a good idea?

YES. Because this shit can permanently cripple you (and it can cost the employer a bunch of money in workman's comp claims). Mostly though, because it can have long-lasting damaging effects on your health.
posted by rtha at 8:24 PM on May 14, 2018 [13 favorites]

I think it might be helpful to do a cost-benefit analysis of the ergo assessment. You'll have to take unpaid time off work for the doctor's appointment, and then? If the doctor says you're having legit pain, will the company pay to fix it? Will you have to pay to fix it? Some combo of the two? Something else entirely?

I suddenly started having shoulder pain last week that gets awful when I'm at my desk -- with the exact same set-up since we moved four months ago -- and goes away when I go home (where I spend a lot of time slumped on my couch with a laptop in a very un-ergo style that somehow does not trigger any immediate issues). I emailed our ergo evaluator today and she told me I needed to immediately order an ergo keyboard and mouse, on the company's dime; when I said that we (in the midst of layoffs) are on an ordering-freeze, she said that they are still ok paying money on preventative equipment rather than worker's comp if my pain/injury gets worse. (And we are in a serious ordering freeze; we can order paper and ink, and no other office equipment right now, but they're telling me to order a $100 keyboard and $90 mouse.) They're also saying they want to bring in an MD to evaluate my set-up.

Your office may have totally different procedures, and I don't know what the legal issues are with you being able to claim worker's comp if you're a temp -- though maybe you can through the temp agency? -- but my understanding is that worker's comp claims for ergonomic issues are really expensive for companies and they would much prefer to spend money upfront to prevent injury. Find out what would happen if your MD found a problem or said that yes, you should have an assessment.
posted by lazuli at 8:34 PM on May 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Have you googled ergonomic desk setup to see what you can do yourself to improve your situation, such as checking the height of your monitor, desk, and chair? There are a lot of things you can do yourself.

Also, make sure you're taking regular breaks, even if it's only standing up for a few minutes. Look up office stretches and desk yoga.

I would probably not do the ergo assessment if I wanted a permanent job with this company, at least not before being hired.
posted by shoesietart at 8:59 PM on May 14, 2018

I got some help with ergonomic issues with Katy Bowman's Aligned and Well Series. She treats the whole body as a chain, and the pain relief could be life changing. It was for me.
posted by Issithe at 9:16 PM on May 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

How awful. I work in an office and I feel that some degree of pain is common, but what you are experiencing sounds extreme. I think the ergonomics must be really out. Your feet should be resting on the floor, not swinging from your chair.

As much as possible, make sure that your desk setup matches up with what's recommended.

Whatever you do, make sure that you are not sitting at your desk for long stretches. My physio recommends not sitting for more than half an hour at a time, so I'm always going for walks around the office or to the kitchen to fill up my water bottle. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water as well, as dehydration isn't great for muscles either.

Fit in some stretches at least a couple of time a day as well.

It would probably be a good idea to add some kind of gentle yoga or stretching session to your evening. But I think it would also be a good idea to look into starting a strength routine, since studies have shown that certain exercises make more of a difference than ergononomic adjustment by itself.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 9:46 PM on May 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

I just wanted to add that I know some of what I recommended might not be possible - having a perfect ergonomic setup can be difficult when you're working with less than ideal equipment. But I think that even just walking around regularly will make a big difference if you're not doing it already.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 9:51 PM on May 14, 2018

Poll the other short women!
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 11:09 PM on May 14, 2018

I'm your height. No regular office furniture is made for us. When I had an ergo assessment, they took away the box I was using to keep my feet from dangling and lowered my desk. It was basic pod furniture, and the surfaces can hook into to the walls at a variety of heights. My desk looked ridiculous, but it was right for me and having my feet on the actual floor made a huge difference. If lowering your surfaces is possible, you might try that. We had facilities people who did the work, it's not really something you can do yourself.
posted by donnagirl at 5:26 AM on May 15, 2018

Short lady office hack: I crank up my rolling office chair to max height and then use the legs/base of it as a foot rest so my feet aren't dangling. This makes reaching the desk much easier as well, and while I'm certain I'm not fully in the recommended ergonomic zone, it has helped a lot. (I'm 5'1".)

However, it sounds like you have one of those expensive "ergonomic" chairs that were pretty much all designed for men and don't often comfortably work for folks under like 5'5" or so because the lumbar support and headrests are all in the wrong place. I don't think there's any problem with you getting the ergonomic consult if it's not going to put you out too much financially. Don't be embarrassed! This is your health and it's important!

In the meantime, are there other types of chairs around the office? Even in storerooms or conference rooms or something? Could you ask your manager if you could swap your chair out for a different one? You've already tried out a bunch of stuff and it hasn't worked, so I don't think it's unreasonable to request a workstation that doesn't leave you in agony on the daily.

Also: I have a free app on my phone called Stand Up! that goes off at regular intervals as a reminder to, well, stand up and move around some. I also try to use this as my cue to drink some water, so double bonus. This might help short term at least for ensuring you're not sitting for hours at a stretch.
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:24 AM on May 15, 2018

For the doctor's note, you may not even need to see the doctor in person. I needed a note to get a standing desk at work and I just emailed my doctor to ask for one. A couple days later it showed up in the mail.

RE: the arm rests, flip the chair over and see if they're attached with screws. If so, bring in a screw driver and remove those puppies. Tape the screws to the armrests and put them somewhere in case someone else wants to put them back on later down the line. Do not ask for permission to do this, just do it and apologize later if need be. Probably no one will even notice.

For the keyboard tray, have you looked at the underside to see if there are any levers etc. you can use to adjust the tilt?

Here is a basic guide in case you need one on how things should be aligned at your desk. (I trust the Mayo Clinic with health advice.)

At least once a day, do some stretching. I especially like this series of stretches.
posted by purple_bird at 9:57 AM on May 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Definitely get rid of the arm rests, or move heaven and earth to get a chair without them. That’s one seemingly-small thing that makes a vast difference to me.
posted by penguin pie at 4:02 PM on May 15, 2018

Little update: I took the armrests off the chair I was using, which helped, but eventually found that the lumbar support on that chair was unadjustable and found myself with lower back pain again. I found a different Steelcase Leap chair in another empty cubicle and grabbed that one instead, and adjusted it to fit me better. I left work less sore today, but sitting was still fairly uncomfortable.

The best way I can describe it is that sitting at that desk feels like a workout. By 2pm I was too exhausted to work as productively as I used to at my old jobs. I might look into the ergonomic assessment after all. I talked to some other colleagues who also said they disliked the chair and after doing some minor research noticed that a lot of people don't like those ergonomic chairs with curved lumbar supports since they cause pain. I might try to fit a chair with a flatter back rest or stuff it with a blanket or something.

Thanks everyone!
posted by Anonymous at 5:02 PM on May 15, 2018

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